Rewind several months and things seemed to finally be looking up for the long-suffering Newcastle United.
Having escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the 2014/2015 season, owner Mike Ashley openly stated his ambition to win things with Newcastle, much to the amazement of Magpie fans.
The limited ambition of merely surviving in the Premier League over the last few years was to be a thing of the past and Newcastle could look forward to a bigger and brighter future.
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Fast forward to today, as the Premier League season nears its conclusion, and to say that Newcastle have failed to perform would be a gross understatement.
With games against Manchester City, Liverpool, as well as Tottenham Hotspur on the last day of the season still to come, a repeat of last year's escape is looking unlikely.
When the dust eventually settles, three main factors stand out as why Newcastle United are in such a mess.
Squandered transfer fees
To be fair to the largely unpopular Mike Ashley, he was true to his word as Newcastle United opened up their cheque book this season after years of being tight-fisted. A combined total of close to £80million was spent on a number of players as Newcastle looked to relive the glory days.
During the summer, in came former PSV Eindhoven captain and Dutch international Georginio Wijnaldum, feisty Serbian striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic, promising French winger Florian Thauvin as well as Congolese defender Chancel Mbemba to improve the squad.
The January transfer window saw Swansea City's Jonjo Shelvey and Spurs' Andros Townsend join up, together with Henri Saivet from Bourdeaux and Seydou Doumbia on loan from AS Roma, as Newcastle splashed the cash in a desperate bid to stave off relegation.
Wijnaldum aside, whose nine goals and five assists represent a decent output for a player adapting to the Premier League while playing for a struggling side, every other player signed has flattered to deceive this season.
Mitrovic, who began the season picking up more cards than goals, has only just started to show his value in the last few games. Both Mbemba and Thauvin have looked woefully out of their depth and the only thing worth mentioning about the pair was that they somehow thought it was a good idea to arrive at matches in tuxedos.
Despite their Premier League experience, both Shelvey and Townsend have contributed little to the side, while Saviet and Doumbia have barely even featured.
With a net spend higher than everyone bar Manchester City this season, Newcastle United have truly wasted several pots of gold.
An abysmal away record
14 defeats from 17 away games makes for truly horrific reading as not even rock bottom Aston Villa have played as poorly as the Magpies have on the road. In their 17 games, Newcastle have managed a meagre ten goal while conceding a whopping 39.
On top of a 6-1 defeat to Manchester City back in October where Sergio Aguero managed five goals, Newcastle have also been demolished 5-1 by Crystal Palace and Chelsea in a season where their travelling fans have had little to cheer about.
With such demoralizing capitulations a regular affair, whenever Newcastle travel away from St James' Park, it is little surprise that no one seems able to bail water out of their sinking ship.
Their last two away games have seen them ship six goals and back in zero points against Southampton and fellow strugglers Norwich City.
A lack of character from the players
By far the most damning charge levelled against the Newcastle players is that they consistently display a downright lack of passion, effort and character. With a team packed full of seasoned internationals like Daryl Janmaat, Fabricio Coloccini, Moussa Sissoko, Cheick Tiote and Papis Cisse should not be mired in a relegation dogfight season after season.
Some fans even pointed fingers suggesting that players only performed against the bigger teams because they knew that there was a far larger audience tuning in. In spite of over 50,000 fans at St James' Park cheering them on week in and week out, many players merely see Newcastle as a shop window for them to make a move to a bigger club. Most recent examples would be Yohan Cabaye departing for Paris Saint-Germain and Mathieu Debuchy joining Arsenal.
Despite the best efforts of several managers, Newcastle have flirted with relegation in four of their last five seasons. Having changed managers to no avail, the fault clearly lies with the players whose attitudes are a disgrace to the fans, who regardless of the results, don the famous black and white strip with pride.
With time quickly running out and just one point from three games, Rafa Benitez looks set to join the likes of Steve McClaren, John Carver, Alan Pardew, Joe Kinnear and Sam Allardyce who have tried and failed to revive a once proud club.
If they fail to get three points against Swansea this weekend, the sobering reality is that Newcastle are looking sure bets to spend next year playing against Rotherham United and Brentford in the Championship.
Can Newcastle United avoid the drop? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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