Rumour has it that Chris Hughton is nearly cannon fodder. The tabloid gossip-mongers have recently suggested that he's one of the next managers on the chopping block should the Tyneside club fail to improve recent performances. Yesterday, the Newcastle cognoscenti rebutted that gossip and began talk about extending the EPL's least-paid manager.
But there's no smoke without fire.
Perhaps that's unfair. Once a few years ago, I awoke at 3am to the smell of smoke in my bedroom. Not having anyone to verify/refute my nasal competence and being unsure of where it was coming from, I phoned the fire brigade and was greeted five minutes later with four fire engines and about thirty firemen. They too smelled the smoke, made a quick recce and decided some teen had lit a local bin afire and trotted off back to base. My point is this: we don't even need smoke to get panicky. All we need is a hint of smoke and suddenly everyone mobilises so quickly you don't know what's happening.
You can draw the same parallels with hints that a board may be replacing a manager.
So why is there a smell of smoke on Tyneside? A 4-0 defeat to Arsenal arouses some suspicions, but surely ones put easily to bed considering Toon's defensive astuteness this year. It would be ungenerous to lay blame at Hughton for one poor game, especially one featuring a Magpie midfield of teens Tamas Kadar and Haris Vukcic alongside "gimp squad" members Danny Guthrie and Alan Smith. That they allowed all four goals in the final forty-five minutes is perhaps cause for concern - but this forgets one thing: it was the League Cup and therefore should be inconsequential.
Of greater concern is their inability to win consistently at St. James' Park but even after nine games (total), to fire a coach because they've lost twice and won only once at home is almost laughably intolerant.
To look at Newcastle United's regular midfield is to see quality. Ivorian Cheick Tiote has proven an astute signing, Joey Barton is probably approaching career-best form (I may rot in hell for even posing this question but: England? Probably not, but it's not something you can dismiss automatically any more) and Danny Guthrie, their best midfielder both of the last two years, is returning to fitness and form. There's been calls for Andy Carroll to represent England while Kevin Nolan has been his usual industrious self. They aren't shopping goals. They're scoring at a fair rate. They've been competitive. They've been (relatively) disciplined. Yes, they've missed Guthrie, Steven Taylor and Steve Harper, but their replacements have all proved more than adequate.
That the press are suggesting that he is on borrowed time at all is incredible. Even more remarkable is the tone in which this is being done. It's not one of persecution, a la Gary Megson, Gianfranco Zola or even Phil Brown. There's a tenor of evenness combined with a smidgen of disbelief because popular opinion has Hughton doing a good job. Popular opinion of this NUFC squad is that it's reasonable. Calling it above average would be a stretch. Chris Hughton knows it, the media knows it - hell, the fans even know it. hat the players have come out in support of their boss shows that they know they aren't a team of world-beaters. How and why the boardroom don't appear to grasp this amazingly simple concept is puzzling and ultimately, everyone also knows it's "the prawn sandwich brigade" who sign the manager's cheques.
Newcastle United sit ninth on the Premiership table after nine games. They sit amidst elevated company such as West Bromwich Albion, Bolton and local rivals (and next opponents) Sunderland. Surely even a smell of smoke is both premature and alarming for a club enjoying it's longest period of stability in over three years.