Date: 21st March 2016 at 5:25pm
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In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the club’s Premier League status was saved by the arrival of summer; in 2009, the season’s end came too late.

The Magpies have repeatedly amassed their points total early in previous campaigns, before tripping across the finish line. Alan Pardew is a master at it – and has repeated the trick at Crystal Palace – while Newcastle’s next opponents Norwich City might too survive their horrific New Year run.

On this occasion, though, United have spent over 150 days in the relegation zone and are still some way short of safety. They have the manager, the players and the support, but they don’t have time.

Rafa Benitez’s Magpies were much improved at Leicester City, against Sunderland they showed spirit, but their efforts earned just one goal and one point from two matches.

20th March 2016 - Barclays Premier League - Newcastle United v Sunderland - Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez - Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

Rafael Benitez took charge of his first Newcastle home match on Sunday against arch-rivals, Sunderland. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside.

Newcastle cannot afford any more consolatory good performances – a harsh defeat at Carrow Road will send them down.

Changes as drastic as those undergone by United when Benitez replaced the floundering Steve McClaren usually require weeks of adjustment. For all the progress seen in the last fortnight, the Spaniard might not even have a chance to get his team in order before he’s out the door again.

Norwich are his next task; a task he cannot fail.

For, as St James’ Park rocked with relief on Sunday afternoon, NR post codes were celebrating too. Newcastle have a game in hand, but – with the points advantage – City are in a position of strength.

Though Aleksandar Mitrovic’s great, late intervention kept United alive, they remain on life support. The Serb belatedly stepped up, and now his team-mates must do likewise.

Jonjo Shelvey and Rob Elliot have so far stood head and shoulders above all others, while Andros Townsend looks bright, and Chancel Mbemba, Siem de Jong and Papiss Cisse are all fit and fighting again.

But it doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter how; Newcastle need rescuing now.

Benitez has reintroduced hope to Tyneside – he and his charges must not allow Father Time to steal it away once more.

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