The television pundits called it "Must-Win Monday," but even victory in the most critical local derby in recent memory might not be enough to pull Newcastle United clear of its downward spiral.
By beating neighbors Middlesbrough on Monday night, Newcastle, a team that was in the UEFA Champions League just six years ago, gave itself a shot at surviving relegation from the English Premier League and the severe financial ramifications that would ensue.
No set of fans is more worthy of success than those draped in Newcastle's black and white, thousands of whom spend their hard-earned cash to traipse around the country each week in order to cheer on their beloved club. Instead, they have had to endure yet another season of turbulence and misery.
Even if former playing hero Alan Shearer, now in temporary charge of the team as head coach, can spearhead a remarkable revival, the good times are still a long way from returning to St. James' Park. Even if relegation – and the resulting black hole of tens of millions of pounds, is averted – there is one crucial thing that needs to happen before Newcastle can get back on track.
Owner Mike Ashley, the retail billionaire who bought in two years ago, needs to go.
Ashley has tried to portray himself as a man of the people by sitting in the stands with the fans rather than in a corporate box. He brought in popular ex-boss Kevin Keegan in January 2008, then called on club legend Shearer once Joe Kinnear became seriously ill. But Ashley simply doesn't have enough soccer sense to handle the delicate workings of Newcastle, a club that has drastically underperformed for decades.
The 45-year-old Ashley has tried to offload the team, but it has been left in such a twisted state that there have been no takers willing to come up with an appropriate price. For now, it looks like Newcastle is stuck with Ashley, and Ashley is stuck with Newcastle.
Three points against Boro on an emotional night on Monday lifted Newcastle level with Hull City at 34 points and out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The 3-1 score line gives the Magpies a chance, a fighting chance, of getting out of trouble with two games remaining in the EPL season.
But the real fight for Newcastle will merely continue and will last much longer if Mike Ashley stays in control. Success seems further away than ever for a fan base and a proud old club that deserves much better.
Weekend First XI
1. Get him an Advil
Mexico Soccer Federation president Justino Compean has staked his reputation on the controversial decision to withdraw Mexican clubs from all competitions involving South American teams.
Mexico's top clubs and national team will no longer take part in the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Copa America after two South American teams refused to play in Mexico because of the swine flu outbreak. Compean stands by his decision, but it is not to the liking of many Mexican fans, with the regular inter-club tournaments against South America's finest having been a popular and long-standing part of the Mexican season.
2. Get her a beer
Women's Professional Soccer commissioner Tonya Antonucci handled the first big incident of the fledgling league with impressive speed and clarity. Antonucci handed down a one-game ban for the Washington Freedom and U.S. women's team star Abby Wambach, whose dreadful tackle resulted in a broken leg for Brazil's Daniela of the St. Louis Athletica. The referee did not issue Wambach a red card for the incident, but Antonucci stepped in to deliver an appropriate punishment.
3. Get him some earplugs
Tottenham Hotspur defender Ledley King was the latest English soccer star to be involved in a high-profile, off-field incident when he was questioned by police over an alleged assault in central London. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when King explains himself to head coach Harry Redknapp, who could do without distraction or disruption at this stage of a tough season for the North London club.
4. Four corners
• Can thrashing Arsenal even begin to make up for Chelsea's Champions League agony?
• What does the future hold for Carlo Ancelotti and Claudio Ranieri, two of Serie A's most charismatic coaches?
• Will there ever be a full and satisfactory explanation of the Abidjan crowd tragedy?
5. Catch a flight to …
Manchester. One of England's rainiest cities is warming up as summer time approaches. And, more importantly, Manchester United takes on Arsenal on Saturday and could celebrate winning its third straight English Premier League title.
6. A round of applause for …
President Barack Obama. Early signs are that Obama is determined to throw his political weight strongly behind the United States' bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. His influence could be a key factor.
7. Get him a Kleenex
David Beckham. AC Milan's Serie A hopes are dwindling and it won't be long before the England midfielder has to bid a tearful – and temporary – farewell to Italy. Beckham is already talking about how much he is looking forward to returning to Milan after his brief final stint with the Galaxy.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Stern John. The Trinidad and Tobago striker could be in line for a return to MLS, a decade after leaving the Columbus Crew for England. John is out of contract with Southampton after a loan spell with Bristol City. MLS is keenly interested.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Darren Huckerby. The San Jose Earthquakes winger has been highly impressive since moving to the Bay Area last season. However, his performances in MLS have alerted several English Championship clubs, and it is likely that Huckerby will be offered a return to his homeland in the summer.
10. Get excited about …
The Champions League final. Last week's thrilling semifinals set up one of the most keenly anticipated title showdowns in years. The best two teams in Europe – Barcelona and Manchester United – will square off in Rome on May 27.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Beatrice Trezeguet, wife of Juventus and France striker David Trezeguet.
- Newcastle United
- English Premier League
- Mike Ashley