Steve McClaren did his best at Newcastle '“ but his best was NOT good enough
It was a long goodbye.
And an awkward one at that.
When Newcastle United announced that Steve McClaren had been dismissed this morning, it surprised no one.
The only surprise was that it took them so long to do it.
While preliminary negotiations were being carried out with Rafa Benitez in private, McClaren was very publicly going about his business at the training ground.
The club's message was "business as usual", but it was anything but usual.
The club, with 10 games left to play, is deep in trouble, far deeper than anyone could have imagined when McClaren walked through the doors at St James's Park last summer.
Benitez has a lot of work to do in a short space of time.
Will the emphasis be on attack? Or defence?
United's defensive record needs addressing, but has Benitez got time to introduce his zone marking system?
Last June there was a degree of optimism on Tyneside after McClaren's appointment.
McClaren, it was hoped, would bring fresh ideas and a fresh approach to a stale club.
Newcastle, under McClaren, were meant to play from the back, press high up the field and attack quickly down the flanks and get balls into the box.
The team, however, won just six of his 28 games in charge.
That's a damning statistic. And there are many more equally damning statistics, some of which were highlighted in a statement issued by members of the club's Fans Forum.
It read: "We have won six games – this is our joint-worst number at this stage, only matched by our relegation season in 2008-09.
"We have the second worst goal difference (only better than Villa).
"We have scored 28 goals, the worst-ever figure in recent history for this stage of the season.
"We have kept one clean sheet since 6th December 2015. We have the third worst disciplinary record in the PL."
They could have gone on, but they had made their point.
Saturday's 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth at St James's Park was the final straw.
Supporters chanted "you're getting sacked in the morning" and "Steve McClaren, you're taking us down".
They were right. McClaren was taking Newcastle down.
Relegation this season is unthinkable given next season's new multi-billion pound TV deal.
This wasn't supposed to happen.
If ever there was a season not to be relegated, it's this one. Yet United are sliding inexorably towards the Championship.
Is it too late? Certainly, supporters feel Benitez would at least give Newcastle a chance of survival.
The eight games Alan Shearer had as caretaker manager in 2008-09 were not enough to stop the rot, and Newcastle have been equally rotten on the pitch this season.
Will 10 games be enough? Maybe, maybe not.
But managing director Lee Charnley had to act.
Of course, the club's problems run deeper than McClaren, but everything else will have to wait until the summer, when, presumably, there will be another inquest into another season of failure.
That inquest must also address the roles of others, among them Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr, in this sorry saga.
Shearer had it right on Match of the Day after the Bournemouth game.
Barely keeping his anger in check, Shearer said: "The club is in a mess – from top to bottom."
McClaren had started the season by asking fans to judge him after 10 games.
That view was quickly revised, and months later, the judgement on Tyneside was damning.
McClaren wasn't able to fashion a team out of what he had.
United's squad isn't perfect, though it's stronger now thanks to a huge spend in January, but its better than that of teams like Bournemouth and Watford.
That said, the playing staff still lacks a goalscorer – why didn't Newcastle try to sign Benik Afobe in January? – and that's something Benitez must overcome.
But there should be more goals in this season.
It should play with pace, purpose and passion.
United fans aren't deluded. Far from it. They don't expect the club to be challenging for the Premier League title.
But they expect a certain level of commitment and competence on the field.
And sadly, that expectation hasn't been met under McClaren, who looked resigned to his fate when he spoke to the media after the Bournemouth game.
McClaren, however, did his best. He can walk away from the club knowing he did everything he could to make his tenure a success.
The thing is, his best just wasn't good enough.