Date: 29th February 2016 at 4:17pm
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In a season where we have repeatedly been told that no one wants to take the Premier League title for their own, a similar scenario appears to be unfolding at the foot of the table.

With Manchester City’s League Cup commitments enforcing yet another free weekend upon Newcastle United, surely their relegation rivals would take advantage to drag the Magpies further into the mire.

Instead; Aston Villa, Sunderland, Norwich City, Swansea City and Crystal Palace were all beaten.

Even without kicking a ball, no side in the bottom-half of the table enjoyed the latest round of fixtures quite as much as Newcastle.

12th January 2016 - Barclays Premier League - Newcastle United v Manchester United - Newcastle manager Steve McClaren celebrates their late 3rd goal - Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Offside.

Newcastle remain level on points with 17th placed Norwich, despite not playing in the Premier League at the weekend.

Rather than suffer another morale-shattering defeat against Manuel Pellegrini’s men, United enjoyed a few days’ extra rest and welcomed back crucial players from injury and took no blows in their fight for survival.

Newcastle’s Premier League safety remains very much in their own hands.

When Gus Poyet inspired Sunderland’s remarkable recovery to finish 14th two years ago, they required results at Man City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The Magpies’ situation now looks considerably less bleak and instead bears resemblance to Leicester City’s escape last season.

The Foxes; who now lead the division, won five of their last six home matches and took points from Burnley and Sunderland.

Nigel Pearson’s Leicester entered April having tasted victory only four times all season, yet a favourable run-in allowed the bottom club to gain momentum and propel themselves well clear of the drop zone.

While Newcastle must still play the postponed clash against Man City, travel to Stoke City, Liverpool and Southampton, plus welcome Tottenham to St James’ Park, their remaining games should mean these can merely be considered bonuses.

In an ideal world; United would be competing with the aforementioned quintet, but for now their focus must remain on the visits of AFC Bournemouth, Sunderland, Swansea and Palace, along with trips to Norwich and Villa.

Though there may be an opportunity to collect a bonus win at Stoke on Wednesday night, panic should not set in until the Magpies start passing through crunch encounters with their rivals without tallying.

Of course; Norwich and Villa look inviting propositions for any club at this stage, but Newcastle have looked incapable of beating anyone on the road in 2016. Their derby record, too, is horrendous, while Bournemouth have posted numerous decent away showings of late.

The fixture list has been relatively kind to Steve McClaren’s Tyneside outfit, but these slumps still need arresting if United are to again steer clear of being condemned to Championship football.

Following the weekend’s results, there is a chance to start an ascent at the Britannia Stadium. A showdown with Eddie Howe’s Cherries on Saturday, though, themselves five points clear of the bottom three, is potentially pivotal.

 
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