Date: 28th April 2016 at 2:45pm
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With three weeks of the season remaining, 10 teams have secured their Premier League status. Once again, Newcastle United and Sunderland are not among them.

In the last four campaigns, the two North East giants have both been at risk at this stage on three occasions. On the other, Sunderland sat bottom.

Year after year, two famous old football clubs have underperformed, and, with Middlesbrough threatening to stutter at the top of the Championship once more, the region could well be without a top-flight side next term.

The mistakes made by Newcastle and Sunderland in recent times have been dire and great in number, making their current positions unsurprising for those who suffer their performances on a weekly basis.

Whereas one club have spent too much on the wrong men, the other haven’t spent at all – with the pair swapping roles almost annually.

And, in the dugout, the Black Cats have chopped and changed managers at a rate of knots, while the Magpies have given incapable coaches too long in the job.

Between the two sides, they’ve achieved failure in just about every possible way.

For Newcastle, in particular, it didn’t have to be like this. Their relegation battle in 2013 was contrasted by a Europa League quarter-final clash with Benfica, having challenged England’s elite in the previous campaign.

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

Rafael Benitez has been tasked with saving Newcastle United from relegation. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside.

Much-maligned owner Mike Ashley didn’t capitalise on the opportunity, though, instead grumbling that his prior investment hadn’t been rewarded with Champions League football.

When United required a spending spree to challenge on four fronts, they were given versatile Ajax man Vurnon Anita and a trio of inexperienced kids. Their subsequent drop from fifth to 16th was remarkably unremarkable.

Ashley belatedly responded, allowing scout Graham Carr to select half a dozen cheap Frenchman, before returning to his previous stance and sitting tight as Newcastle spluttered through another season.

When the time came to invest again, Ashley retained his trust in Carr. Remy Cabella, Siem de Jong and Emmanuel Riviere arrived for hefty fees – in two years, that attacking trio have contributed a league goal each between them.

And, while the new signings stunk the place out, the United owner refused to replace unpopular Alan Pardew with a fresher scent. Eventually, he did depart, his arrogance somehow topped by replacement John Carver claiming to be the division’s best manager.

Surviving on the final day, Newcastle didn’t heed their warning, effectively playing a rerun of the entire campaign. Vast sums were spent on Florian Thauvin, Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic, with mildly more spectacular returns, as Steve McClaren became the latest under-qualified leader of the club.

So, with the failed England boss becoming a failed Magpies boss, but clinging to his job long enough to ensure United were stuck in the bottom-of-the-table mire, we arrive at this point.

Rafa Benitez has inspired performances that have offered a measure of relief to the Tyneside public, but it looks as though rivals Sunderland are favourites to avoid the drop from here.

Even if the Black Cats should do so, though, a bigger challenge will be for Sam Allardyce to convert these perennial strugglers into something more.

16 January 2016 Premier League Football - Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland :Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce.Photo: Mark Leech

Should Sunderland survive, Sam Allardyce will need to convert the Black Cats into more than perennial strugglers. Photo: Mark Leech/Offside

Where Newcastle lack an owner who cares, his indifference reflected in the delegation of football duties, Sunderland are seemingly short on ambition – particularly in their transfer dealings.

While Jermain Defoe has proven a roaring success, he stands alone in the Wearsiders’ squad. Too often have they happily accepted the cast-offs of the Premier League’s leading lights, taking John O’Shea and Wes Brown from Manchester United, Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell from Manchester City, Sebastian Coates and Fabio Borini from Liverpool, and Vito Mannone from Arsenal.

As Newcastle have shown with Wijnaldum, West Ham United with Dimitri Payet and Stoke City with Xherdan Shaqiri, English football carries such an allure that its top division sides can compete with some of Europe’s finest in the market.

There’s been some improvement at the Stadium of Light this term, with Jan Kirchhoff and Lamine Kone arriving in January, but they can aim higher still.

The same might apply to the manager’s position. Allardyce has at least instilled some fight in the squad, and may well be a chief factor in keeping the club from the pain of relegation, but his dismissal at West Ham showed his limitations.

While the former Newcastle boss claimed to be a steadying influence, Slaven Bilic rocked up and pushed the Hammers towards a top-four spot. In this seemingly new era in the Premier League, with Leicester City set to emerge from nowhere to claim the title, there is no excuse to be content with mere survival.

And that is the task that lies ahead for whichever team survives this three-way battle at the bottom: Aspire to be better.

Aston Villa have shown that years of treading water is always likely to end in drowning; Leicester, on the other hand, have appointed the right manager, made some astute signings and attacked the top teams.

That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it has to be from now on.

 
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