EPL Extra Time: Reeling Newcastle now national laughingstock

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley was forced to abandon his usual place among the traveling Geordie support at Old Trafford on Saturday in favor of a business meeting in Hong Kong.

It's fair to assume the billionaire businessman won't live to regret that decision.

Had Ashley been present and decked out in his familiar replica shirt, he would undoubtedly have arrived at the ground to back-slapping from those notoriously impatient Newcastle fans delighted with the owner's decision to bring Sam Allardyce's brief, 28-game reign as manager to an abrupt end.

PREMIERSHIP POWER RANKINGS

The top three

1. Manchester United – No contest. Currently the team to beat in English football.

2. Chelsea – Nineteen points out of the last available 24 and they sign Anelka. Who’s going to miss Drogba now?

3. Arsenal – A rare blip against Birmingham means we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. For now.

The bottom three

18. Newcastle United – Allardyce's firing was just what the Geordies wanted. But losing 6-0 at Old Trafford? Not so good.

19. Fulham – A new manager but same old story. A team in crisis.

20. Derby County – The worst Premiership team ever?

Team rising

Everton – Ignore two defeats in Cup action last week. This team has a genuine shot at fourth place if it can weather the loss of three key players to the African Cup of Nations.

Team falling

Reading – One point from its last four games means the slide continues.

By the time the final whistle had mercifully brought a close to a humiliating 6-0 defeat to Manchester United, though, Ashley's ears would have been ringing from the sound of those same fans demanding he do something quickly to halt the crisis that has turned the proud Northeast club into something approaching a national laughingstock.

Newcastle arrived to face Man United rudderless and in a state of chaos following the dismissal of its 15th manager in 22 years and still reeling from the rejection by Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, who sent word he would not be taking up the opportunity to succeed Allardyce.

Incredibly, the Magpies departed in an even worse state. And "fiasco" is not too strong a word to describe the mess that has once again enveloped St James' Park.

Allardyce was dispensed with because he failed to meet immediately the ludicrous expectations that surround a club long on tradition but desperately short of anything approaching a meaningful modern history. The last time the club added silverware to its trophy cabinet was in 1969 when Newcastle won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, a competition that doesn't even exist anymore.

Having been rebuffed by Redknapp, Ashley now seems determined to take his time with his new coaching search, with Blackburn's Mark Hughes emerging Sunday as a hot favorite for the post. But while the owner will undoubtedly make money available to whomever inherits the most perilous job in English football, the crucial issue is whether he will afford them patience.

"The expectations are high," Newcastle's caretaker manager Nigel Pearson said. "Whoever comes into the job next will not be under any illusions that it is anything but a difficult job.

"It's disappointing for me because I've seen a lot of hard work that's gone in behind the scenes that has been put in for the long-term future, and people don't necessarily see that. Ultimately, the foundations have got to be right and whoever comes in will have their own ideas about how they go forward with the club and it could be a fairly lengthy process. There needs to be a bit of stability."

On Sunday, Ashley told the News of the World newspaper that he will be leaving his seat in the stands with the Geordie faithful and swapping his replica jersey for a suit and tie. He explained that he intends to head to the board room to take a more active, hands-on role as he attempts to correct the errors of the brief but traumatic Allardyce era.

In the meantime, Pearson has the chance to keep Newcastle's miserable season alive in Wednesday's FA Cup third-round replay with Stoke at St. James' Park – although the dubious reward for the winners is a fourth-round trip to Arsenal.

"Expectations will be very high for that game," Pearson said. "We've got to be in a position where we go out, put on a performance and get into the next round of the FA Cup. It's as simple as that. There is no room for any of us to feel sorry for ourselves after a game like that."

Would it be a surprise if morale was rattled by the manner of Saturday's drubbing, however? Of course not.

The Geordies managed to leak six goals in the second half, four in the final 20 minutes and three in the last five. Even allowing for some sublime Man United attacking play and Cristiano Ronaldo's hat trick, this was a disaster.

"We don't want a short-term fix," Pearson said. "The whole way this story is covered over years, there have been a lot of managers in a short period of time and I know it'd be in the club's interests for there to be some stability.

"Unfortunately, this week's been disappointing because we felt that, given time, that could be the case. Unfortunately, the short-term factors have made that impossible with Sam's departure. So, the club's going to be looking for someone else (to manage) and they will be hoping they get time as well."

WINNER AND LOSER OF THE WEEKEND

Winner: Roy Keane (Sunderland). On the day stories emerged claiming owners are unhappy with his transfer dealings, a big win boosts the Black Cats' survival chances.

Loser: Newcastle fans. Losing at Manchester United is no disgrace. Losing at Manchester United like that is.

GAFFER'S GRIPES

Arsene Wenger, Sven Goran Eriksson and Sir Alex Ferguson. They're three of the biggest names in the world of football management and three bosses who should know better.

All three found cause to complain Saturday – even Ferguson after seeing his team humiliate managerless Newcastle 6-0.

Ferguson's ire was directed at referee Rob Styles for his refusal to award first-half penalty kicks for fouls on Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs.

"Absolutely we should have had a penalty," Ferguson said. "I just don't understand Rob. He didn't give a penalty for us in the Fulham game and I don't know if he was trying to make a point: 'I didn't give it to them last time; I won't this time.' It's disappointing because it's unfair."

Wenger's complaint was far more reasonable and was directed at himself and his players for their lackluster display in the draw with Birmingham.

"We were caught in the feeling, during the game, that it would be easy, and that's a good lesson for us," Wenger said. "We lacked quality in the final third (of the field) and that was a collective problem. I take full responsibility. The crowd (was) good, we were bad and I include myself in that. That was the poorest game we have played."

At Goodison Park, meanwhile, Eriksson was critical of referee Mark Halsey – in that understated Eriksson kind of way – after television replays confirmed that Joleon Lescott's goal in Everton's 1-0 victory was offside.

"I saw it on the computer after the match, yes, I think it's offside," Eriksson said. "It's very, very tight but half a yard offside. We are not lucky with that referee. We lost to Tottenham away and there were doubts about both the goals Tottenham scored that day, but we'll have luck the next time we have him."

CHANTS OF THE WEEKEND

"Fergie's right, your fans are (expletive)" – Newcastle supporters back Sir Alex Ferguson's claims that Manchester United fans are not vocal enough.

"England's No. 1" – Arsenal fans support Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia's efforts to gain a UK passport, through residency, and play for the England national team.

Ian Edwards covers English football for the Wardle Agency.