The phrase “transitional season” is used almost exclusively as an excuse when a campaign hasn’t panned out as the board and manager had hoped. For Newcastle United, it was always likely this season.
However, an early concern on Tyneside is that the 2015/16 season may not even fulfil this criteria. In the last two weeks, the Magpies have looked no better than the side that limped pathetically across the finish line in May.
At West Ham United, there was an all-too-familiar collapse. Where earlier this term defeats had arrived after costly red cards, in London, United simply didn’t start quick enough and were blown away by an early goal. There was little fight and certainly no recovery, and in the end it was essentially a wasted journey for the fans that travelled down in difficult conditions to witness a throwback to John Carver’s team.
Losing to Arsenal was a blow, but progress was evident. There was no sign of that at Upton Park, and the same could be said against Watford on Saturday.
Newcastle had defended well in clashes with the Gunners and Manchester United, but two farcical concessions set the newly-promoted Hornets in the clear at St James’ Park. Low on confidence, Steve McClaren’s men never looked like taking anything from the game.
Though on this occasion there was at least a goal, the fact that worries have returned in the back-line is more significant.
When Papiss Cisse and Aleksandar Mitrovic were struggling to mark the scorecard in the opening weeks of the campaign, United could at least rely on a sturdy defence. At the weekend, Fabricio Coloccini was all over the place, Massadio Haidara was directly responsible for one goal, while Daryl Janmaat and Chancel Mbemba both might have done better.
This was Watford. With all due respect to last season’s Championship runners-up, they are not a side that should be causing such problems to a club with European aims. Should Newcastle post such a performance again this week, a rejuvenated Chelsea could tally an embarrassing number.
Slow starts are nothing new in NE1, but that doesn’t make this stutter any less frustrating. With Chelsea, Manchester City and Sunderland all to play in their next four matches, United’s hunt for a first win remains in peril. Should it drag out much longer, the season might be over before it’s even begun.