Steve McClaren fears that Newcastle United’s relegation battle will go to the wire.
The club only confirmed its Premier League status on the final day of last season.
Newcastle’s fate this season could again be determined late in the campaign.
The club is third-bottom of the league, and a point adrift of safety, ahead of this afternoon’s game against Watford.
And head coach Steve McClaren doesn’t think it will be easy for United to get “out of the mire” over the coming months.
“It’s going to go all the way,” said McClaren.
“You’re never out of the mire, even if you’re up there on 29 or 30 points. It’s still the prospect of another three or four wins, and it’s difficult.
“The league is tough this year, really really tough. All we’re looking at is ourselves.
“You can look at the others, but if you don’t win and collect the points, then you’re not going to get out.
“This will go to the wire and all of the way, because even the teams above with 29 points ... can get sucked in.
“It’s about us and what the target is. We have to take one game at a time.
Watford, promoted last season, made an astonishing start to the season, but Quique Flores’ 12th-placed side are now without a win in their last four league games.
And McClaren doesn’t think there is much between the teams in the bottom half of the division.
“From the start of the season the teams who have come up have done well and adapted well to the Premier League,” said McClaren.
“Just the quality from top to bottom, save for the top four who have the bigger squad, the level is very close. There is a thin dividing line between winning and losing.”
Newcastle were beaten at Vicarage Road in the FA Cup earlier this month, and another defeat could leave McClaren’s side, who beat West Ham United 2-1 last weekend, adrift in the relegation zone.
And for McClaren, United simply have to stay in touch with the teams above them in the league.
“Last week we talked about the win and that was important just to get back in the pack, and we’ve done that,” he said.
“This week is also important. Each game racks up more and more of the pressure.”
Watford have taken 29 points so far this season – eight more than Newcastle – but McClaren feels they will still be concerned about securing their top-flight status.
“I wouldn’t say they are in a relegation fight, but they’ll certainly be looking up and all the teams around there will be,” he said.
“You need a good run. We are just concentrating on ourselves and not really looking around.
“I know Swansea won, but it’s up to us, we have to do the job.”
It could take more than 40 points to stay up this season – 36 would have been enough last term – but McClaren is reluctant to predict how high – or low – the bar will be.
““At the moment I haven’t got a clue,” he said.
“It will become more apparent the longer it goes on. You never quite know. One game at a time.”
Asked if it would take more than 40 points, he added: “Could be. Might not be.”
Watford also beat Newcastle at St James’s Park in September – two goals from Odion Ighalo gave them a 2-1 win – and McClaren is wary of Flores’ “dangerous” side, despite their recent run of poor league form.
“A couple of times we have played them, especially in the cup game we felt we were unlucky,” said McClaren.
“That’s what they have got, with (Troy) Deeney and Ighalo. They need a win and they have a home game.
“They will be buoyed and confident. It is up to us to go there and hopefully get the right result.
“They are at home and have beaten us twice. They will be confident.
“We have a determination to turn that round. Watford are a dangerous opponent, but it is about what we do.
“We only have four fit defenders so we are struggling for a formation or system that accommodates the four.
“Ighalo and Deeney have scored 24 goals between them, and they can’t keep that going all season.
“Everyone has a little dip and we will go there and try to make sure they continue that.”