The 2015-16 season has been, in the most complimentary of terms possible, challenging. There are a number of root causes that can (and will, ultimately) be looked at. The squad was still very thin in some places, developed a state of thinness in others and was ultimately misfiring in many places. Enter the January window in which Mike Ashley, Lee Charnley, and Steve McClaren could: a) fix most of the problems, b) fix none of the problems and insist that we're making progress, or C) do what we ultimately did and do probably enough yet still leave some needs unaddressed.
Heading into the January window, two things were known for sure. Newcastle were struggling to score goals (fourth lowest total in the league) and they were struggling to keep teams from scoring (third highest total in the league). It came as some surprise, then, that the first two players in the door were both brought in to shore up the central midfield. Heads were scratched, but you can see a reason. Newcastle had struggled to maintain an consistent presence in the middle of the park with various combinations of Jack Colback, Vurnon Anita and Cheik Tiote in the middle of the park and they had seemed chronically unable to bring Steve McClaren's talk from paper to pitch. In that light (and the warm lovely glow of Jonjo Shelvey's debut against West Ham), it kind of made sense.
There were many missteps in the handling of passing the torch from Alan Pardew to Steve McClaren. First and foremost of those was the sheer amount of time that it took for what we all assumed would be the end result of our "coaching search" to come into the light of day. In hindsight, here's where it mattered most: Steve McClaren did not have enough time to get a good measure of the players he had at his disposal. A hastily arranged preseason tour of the US (while fun for those of us that got to see them play) didn't help matters. Belated arrivals in the summer transfer window (players such as Chancel Mbemba who were brought in to be first team players) didn't help either. The very real result of all of that is that McClaren truly had no idea what he had.
The recruitment of Jonjo Shelvey, Henri Saivet, and Andros Townsend represent a turn in the standard operating procedure of the Newcastle United board. These players are Steve McClaren players. They are not Graham Carr players. Previous managers have bemoaned the fact that more often than not, players were brought in that they did not want (or did not know how to use. or were just plain not good enough). For every Yohan Cabaye, there is a Remy Cabella or a Florian Thauvin or an Emanuel Riviére or a Sylvain Marveaux or a Romain Amalfitano. These players have been recommended by McClaren, vetted by McClaren and represent a step toward balancing Newcastle United's player recruitment model.
Frankly, the change has been too late coming to save a lot of suffering for so many in the Toon Army. The pressure, as it has been noted, is now going to be squarely on McClaren to deliver not just "encouraging" performances, but real actual points. Problems in the squad have been addressed and most of them were at his behest. Exactly why we have not strengthened the second-worst defense in the division will remain in most forms a mystery. It is likely an expression of McClaren's thought that removing pressure on the back line by stiffening up the central midfield will help shore things up. On paper, all of this makes sense. For Steve's sake, he better be able to get this translated from paper to pitch.