Those injuries – and the “devastating” one suffered by Callum Wilson has month – have significantly weakened Steve Bruce’s hand ahead of an all-important run of Premier League games against West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion.
The club has won just two of its last 17 games in all competitions – so how will it fare without them? Maybe that’s why the situation, finally, has owner Ashley’s attention.
Ashley has been trying to resurrect a £300million takeover through legal action, but the club won’t be worth that much should it drop into the Championship for the third time under his ownership.
The warning signs have been there for months – on and off the pitch.
United recruited well last summer, but the club hasn’t played nearly well enough. Performances have improved since Graeme Jones arrived in late January as Bruce’s assistant, but results are still lagging.
“At the moment, we have a nice healthy cushion to the bottom three,” said Bruce.
Newcastle lost at Bramall Lane, and that cushion is gone. Bruce – who demanded more “respect” from the journalists covering the club in January, and no longer has a press conference separate section for written reporters – is no longer in denial.
Clearly, the club’s league position is the most pressing concern. Supporters have been concerned for months by performances on the field, and maybe Ashley now shares their concern.
But it shouldn’t have taken these injuries for Ashley to take notice. Bruce had a squad at the start of the season which looked strong enough to challenge for a top-10 place. However, it soon became apparent that a top-10 finish would be beyond the club.
Bruce dismissed criticism of him and his team before Christmas as “mass hysteria”, but many supporters – who have watched every game on TV – had seen enough to convince them that changes were needed.