Newcastle United are fast running out of time – and Steve McClaren has run out of excuses.
Last night’s 3-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park was embarrassing.
And on this evidence, the club will be playing Championship football next season.
No ifs, no buts.
Third-bottom Newcastle, as it stands, are deservedly in the Premier League’s relegation zone.
If things don’t change quickly, they will stay there for the rest of the season.
The team had £28.5million spent on it in last month’s transfer window.
January signings Jonjo Shelvey, Henri Saivet and Andros Townsend all started – but it was the same old United.
Newcastle were second-best in every area of the pitch at Goodison, where Aaron Lennon found the net and Ross Barkley converted two late penalties in a shambolic final few minutes for the visitors.
Had it not been for goalkeeper Rob Elliot, the scoreline would have been much worse.
Before the game, McClaren had had conceded that there could be “no excuses” in the second half of the season after the club’s January spend.
There was no excuse for his team’s disjointed performance on Merseyside.
McClaren dropped Aleksandar Mitrovic from his starting XI.
The striker had laboured up front in the club’s previous game, the 2-1 defeat to Watford.
And McClaren – who named loan striker Seydou Doumbia on his bench – instead fielded Ayoze Perez as his main striker, with Georginio Wijnaldum, a target for Everton last summer, playing behind him.
Townsend, signed for £12million from Tottenham Hotspur last week, made his debut on the right side of midfield.
Perez, the club’s best finisher along with Wijnaldum, had seen his new long-term contract announced on transfer deadline day.
And Newcastle took to the field fully aware of the discontent simmering beneath the surface at Goodison Park at the team’s defensive record this season.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez left under-fire goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender John Stones out of his matchday squad.
United just had to keep the home team quiet for it to start to boil over.
But that was easier said than done, with Tom Cleverley having forced an early save from Elliot after Romelu Lukaku – who had scored three goals for Everton in Newcastle’s last two visits to Goodison Park – set him up.
The famous old stadium, however, was unusually quiet in the first 15 minutes, apart from the 1,700 travelling fans tucked into the lower tier of the Bullens Road Stand.
United were disciplined enough defensively for the first 20 minutes, but then it happened.
A clever backheel from Barkley set in motion the move for Everton’s opening goal, scored by Lennon. Cleverley played him in on the edge of the box and the unchallenged winger had time to turn and pick his spot.
Newcastle just couldn’t keep possession, and the frustration of Shelvey with some of his team-mates was evident.
The pace of Townsend, Perez and Wijnaldum’s wasn’t brought to bear on a poor defence.
To compound United’s problems, Mbemba suffered a foot injury blocked a shot from Lennon late in the first half and had to be replaced by Jamaal Lascelles, who had come off the bench and scored against Watford.
McClaren made another change at the break – Rolando Aarons replaced hamstring victim Paul Dummett, while injured Everton striker Lukaku made way for Arouna Kone – and the chances kept coming for the Toffees.
McClaren reacted by replacing the ineffective Saivet with Mitrovic.
Elliot stopped another effort from Lennon, and Kone put a follow-up effort wide.
Had it not been for the goalkeeper, the game would have long been over, and Elliot somehow tipped a fine shot from Barkley on to the bar as the hour approached.
Everton went on to hit the woodwork twice more in the next few minutes.
Newcastle’s fans implored their team to attack, but when they did finally create a chance, they couldn’t take it.
Mitrovic somehow volleyed wide after Moussa Sissoko delivered an inswinging cross from the left with his right foot.
United haven’t created too many chances this season, but they’ve wasted far too many of those they have fashioned.
Perez, at least, forced a save from Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles with 15 minutes left on the clock as Newcastle rallied to the frustration of the home fans.
But the rally was all too brief.
Makeshift left-back Aarons brought down Lennon with a clumsy challenge on Lennon in the 88th minute – Barkley converted it – and six minutes later Lascelles conceded another spot-kick.
Lascelles was shown a red card and will now miss Saturday’s home game against West Bromwich Albion through suspension.
Barkley stepped up again to put the ball past Elliot.
It was a forgettable end to a forgettable night.