One step forward. Two steps back. Repeat.
That’s Newcastle United right now.
Steve McClaren warned that there would be more pain to come a few weeks ago.
And the second half Saturday’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester United was certainly painful.
More than that, it was embarrassing.
As good as Sergio Aguero is, how can he score five goals? How?
United spent £50million in the summer in an attempt to address the under-investment of previous years.
But it looks like it’ll take another £50million to sort out the club’s problems, and January, presumably, can’t come soon enough for head coach McClaren.
But just where will Newcastle, bottom with eight games played, be when the transfer window reopens? Will it be too late?
Alan Shearer was blunt in his assessment on Match of the Day.
“There’s a fragility about Newcastle, a losing mentality about the football club,” said the club’s all-time record goalscorer. “They have won one of the last 19 football matches.
“They have not come from behind enough since last December. It doesn’t hurt enough.
“They can’t capitulate like they did at half-time when things are going so well for them. It’s like the flip of a coin.
“It can’t be accepted for that losing mentality to happen because before long they will be relegated if they keep on performing like that.”
Just four months after United stayed up, the club looks destined for another relegation battle.
The City defeat hurt Newcastle’s fans – and there were many of them at the Etihad Stadium – but did it hurt every one of the players who were on the pitch?
McClaren, right now, has his hands full on and off the pitch.
The expression on goalkeeper Tim Krul’s face as he passed journalists in the mixed zone told its own story.
Krul takes defeats badly. That’s what you want. If only all of his team-mates were hurt as much by what had inexplicably happened in the second half.
Captain Fabricio Coloccini bypassed the mixed zone, and it was left to others, including Kevin Mbabu and Daryl Janmaat, to speak to talk to supporters through the waiting Press.
They deserved some kind of explanation or apology from the club’s skipper.
I can only remember Shearer once failing to speak as a player, when asked, during my time covering Newcastle, and that was after a particularly bad defeat away to Charlton Athletic.
He was a leader on and off the pitch, and if something needed saying, he would say it.
So too would Kevin Nolan. They were leaders, and McClaren’s team lacks leadership. And the decision to keep Coloccini as captain, and extend his contract, in the summer after two poor seasons was a strange one.
The club’s failure to sign another defender could prove far more costly.
We saw glimpses of the Coloccini of old in the first half at the Etihad Stadium as United’s players worked for each other in defence and created openings in attack.
They played well, and deserved their goal, scored by Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Makeshift left-back Kevin Mbabu, playing only his third competitive senior game in British football, skipped past Pablo Zabaleta and delivered a ball which City failed to clear. Georginio Wijnaldum then crossed for Mitrovic, who headed past Joe Hart. Game on.
Indeed, Newcastle could have led 3-0 had it not been for a save from Hart and an offside flag.
Aguero levelled before the break, but there was no sign of what was to come. No sign at all.
United lost all shape and discipline. They lost their heads. City scored five goals – one was a stunning volley from Kevin De Bruyne – in 13 second-half minutes.
When Aguero scored their sixth, there was no knowing how the afternoon would end.
Newcastle’s thinking was as foggy as the journey across the Pennines made by the club’s fans earlier in the day.
Fortunately for Newcastle, Manuel Pellegrini’s side coasted the last 28 minutes. Aguero was taken off after scoring his fifth goal, and City weren’t the same without him.
McClaren, maybe wisely, took his time before appearing for his post-match Press conference.
Asked about his players’ desire when the goals starting going in, he said: “It’s bound to be an issue. You concede five goals in 13 minutes – you’ve got an issue.
“We’ve showed what our strengths are and what this team is capable of doing, but we’ve also shown what our weaknesses are and what we’re capable of not doing.
“This result and performance – we know we have to toughen up and get ready for the next spell of games. The first eight (games) have been tough.”
McClaren asked fans to reserve judgement until the 10th game.
That fixture happens to be against Sunderland, who will have a new manager for the Wear-Tyne derby on October 25, and we all know what managerial changes on Wearside have meant for recent derby games.
And United need to take a stride forward before they head to Wearside by beating Norwich City a week on Sunday at St James’s Park.