Steve McClaren’s got it wrong. Newcastle United ARE consistent. The problem is that his team is consistently bad.
And unless there are dramatic changes on and off the pitch over the coming weeks and months, the club is in very real danger of getting relegated.
Saturday’s 5-1 defeat to Crystal Palace was more shameful than the abject loss to Leicester City.
They were again “woeful, embarrassing, hopeless and inept”, the words Alan Shearer had used to describe them on Match of the Day a week earlier.
That’s not “progress”, a word McClaren has often used himself this season.
After the match, Palace manager Alan Pardew talked glowingly about the “reaction” from his side to their own loss to Sunderland five days earlier.
Pardew got a reaction from his players.
McClaren, worryingly, did not.
There were calls after the game for McClaren to be dismissed.
But many of the problems at the club aren’t of McClaren’s making, though he must take responsibility for what was a truly dire performance.
McClaren will probably be making the same kind of pleas to managing director Lee Charnley that Pardew was a year ago in the weeks before he left the club.
He needs more players. He needs better players. And he needs Premier League experience.
Will Charnley listen? And will chief scout Graham Carr deliver them?
There needs to be major investment in the team come January.
One problem, however, will be tempting players to come to a club which looks to be in freefall.
There was some welcome optimism in the summer given that United invested more than £50million, but the reality was that the squad had needed another £50million spent on it as a result of the chronic under-investment of previous years.
Just as importantly, there had also been a need for outgoings.
And captain Fabricio Coloccini, arguably, should have been allowed to join Palace in the summer.
Newcastle, in their wisdom, handed him an extension to his lucrative contract to keep him at St James’s Park, but was this, in reality, the cheap option?
Should the club have instead spent upwards of £10million on a centre-half with Premier League experience?
And retaining Coloccini as captain was another mistake.
There’s a chronic lack of leadership on the field, and Coloccini, handed the skipper’s armband by Pardew four years ago, is far too quiet.
Ironically given Pardew’s interest in signing Coloccini a few short months ago, Palace seemed to target him on the field at Selhurst Park.
McClaren felt his team did give him a reaction in the first few minutes – he felt United “looked bright” – but Papiss Cisse’s 10th-minute opener actually came against the run of play.
Cisse headed a dinked ball from Daryl Janmaat past Wayne Hennessey in the home goal.
But four minutes later, Palace were level.
James McArthur levelled with a deflected shot, and Palace took advantage of some hesitant defending to take the lead, with Yannick Bolasie scoring the first of his two goals in the 17th minute.
Wilfried Zaha was the beneficiary of more sloppiness at the back before the break to make it 3-1.
Pardew switched to a three-man defence at the break – Jamaal Lascelles replaced Ayoze Perez – but Bolasie netted a fourth from a free-kick conceded by the defender.
Time and again Pardew’s side were first to balls.
They pressed and they ran. They had pace and they had purpose.
Newcastle never got to grips with Bolasie and Zaha on the flanks.
And when United did win the ball, they seemingly didn’t know what to do with it. They were awful.
They lacked ideas and any kind of inspiration.
The only surprise was that it took Palace until injury-time to score a fifth goal, with McArthur netting his second of the game in the final few seconds of the game.
So seven days after that Leicester game – labelled Newcastle’s “worst” performance of the season – the team put in an even worse showing in SE25.
And the 2,800 fans who were at Selhurst Park left the stadium fearing the worst.
Long after the final whistle, McClaren arrived in the media suite at the Holmesdale Road end of the ground.
As the team bus waited outside the ageing Main Stand to take McClaren and his players to the airport for their private flight back to the North East, the club’s head coach – who looked like he had aged himself in the previous 90 minutes – said he was “hurting” for the fans.
“This isn’t good enough – we know that,” he admitted.
McClaren, clearly angry, revealed he had told his players to report for training yesterday.
Maybe he talked about the need for consistency when he addressed his squad.
But what United really need to be right now is a little LESS consistent, as this level of consistency will take the club down.