It is official. Now all we have are memories of what could have been. Lost opportunities, wrapped in the worn blanket of false hope.
All I can give you is perspective. In looking through the fixtures so many stood out for one reason or another, but I decided to offer my observations on 10 matches that represented critical moments of demarcation.
Every top 10 list should come with at least two asterisks. The first should note the arbitrariness of deciding on only 10 items. Diligent and exhaustive research would require that said number be a product of the research as opposed to a literary frame. The second should note the chaotic nature of cause and effect. For example, if Newcastle did (X) how would that impact all the other variables within the equation.
Looking at the carnival of failures that has been this campaign it is probably more therapeutic to not be exhaustive. This inevitably bleeds into the second note in that changing outcomes will affect player performance and coaching decisions. The slope is slippery.
Frankly I am not writing this as an objective piece. I am not comparing data points, charting trends nor looking to list these by importance. It simply serves to point out 10 matches we can all talk about as nails in the coffin. If we are being honest the season is a collective train wreck in motion so ranking these is almost meaningless.
10. August 29th: NUFC 0 - Arsenal 1
Mitrovic gets sent off 16 minutes into the match. Arsenal scores thanks to a Coloccini own goal. Arsenal was clearly the better team, but it wasn't until the 52nd minute that Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain benefitted from the Newcastle captains misfortune. To only concede one goal down a man was actually inspiring, fostering confidence in both coach and players. Was the red card an overreaction by the official, muddied by Mitro's history? Probably. But it was sloppy, and the lack of discipline cost a point. It was the false confidence inferred by fans that stings even more.
9. September 19th: NUFC 1 - Watford 2
Whatever we thought about this team's strategy and form under McClaren after the Arsenal loss was officially, in my opinion, buried with this travesty. Within 28 minutes the team found themselves down 2-0 to recently promoted Watford. Odion Ighalo's two early goals gave future Newcastle opponents an insight into the teams greatest weakness: its defending. The lone goal for Newcastle was courtesy of defender Daryl Janmaat. Remember the good Daryl? The Daryl that wasn't fed up with the incompetence and still tried? It was also the teams first goal in 464 minutes of play. No excuse for this home performance versus a team that played Championship football as season ago.
8. September 23rd: NUFC 2 - Chelsea 2
Coming off a Capital One loss to Sheffield Wednesday the team actually looked refreshed. The future of Newcastle (I threw up in my mouth a bit) was on display as Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum gave Newcastle a comfortable (the vomit again) 2-0 lead. Chelsea, a team destined for the bottom three, found the flaw with 11 minutes remaining. They tied the match with only four to play, and frankly should have won it if not for Tim Krul being best-player-on-the-team Tim Krul.
7. October 25th: Sunderland 3 - NUFC 0
Maybe the most important match of the year in my eyes. Newcastle was dominating the match, and looked every bit the team the week before dismantled Norwich 6-2. That was until an AWFUL penalty against Coloccini found him sent off in first half stoppage time. Recently imprisoned Adam Johnson converts the PK giving Sunderland the lead at the half. The call stands out, but also the inability to finish. At worst Sunderland should have been fighting to get points a man up. The six goals against the Canaries was a Gini false positive, painting the picture of a team ready to make the leap. Yet this was more the team that the week before the Norwich match, lost to Manchester City 6-1. Surely the confidence in McClaren had died with this, yet another Derby loss.
6. December 26th: NUFC 0 - Everton 1
Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Boxing Day! What did Newcastle get us? Conceding a goal on the final play of the match! After a humiliating loss to Crystal Palace 5-1 (but it was an away match so to be expected) the team somehow found form by beating Liverpool 2-0 and Tottenham 2-1 (an actual away win against Spurs) in successive weeks. Of course the following week they draw Villa 1-1 (sound familiar). McClaren's boys faced a Toffee squad playing top of the table football. Maybe the most organized football the pre-Rafa club played all season was wasted on poor set piece defending. Happy New Year!!!
5. January 2nd: Arsenal 1 - NUFC 0
Another match in which a striker with finishing super powers would have benefitted the club. Arsenal, outplayed for the majority of the match, found points at the 72 minute mark. This match was reminiscent of the Sunderland match with opportunity after opportunity wasted. Gini missed. Mitro missed. This match was sandwiched between two other 1-0 away loses to West Brom and Watford (FAC match) respectively. If I'm being honest either of those two matches could easily be on this list.
4. January 23rd: Watford 2 - NUFC 1
Watford was riding a four game losing streak. Newcastle had come from behind twice to draw Manchester United 3-3, and had defeated West Ham 2-1 the week prior. So how does this team respond at Vicarage Road? A lifeless first half, and then conceding a goal to Odion Ighalo 44 seconds into the second half. Take nothing away from Jamaal Lascelles' wonderful header in the 71st minute, but it was wasted on a club down 2-0. This game was a sign of McClaren's desperation. Along with Lacelles in the starting rotation was Henri Saivet and Ronado Aarons.
3. March 2nd: Stoke City 1 - NUFC 0
McClaren should have been sent off by now. Yet someone felt his vision of team building in La Manga was worthy of more time. After 18 days off we saw the same team we had seen all season. Either failing to finish or produce opportunities, and conceding late match goals. Credit Jack Butland's performance, specifically his last second save off the foot of Seydou Doumbia in stoppage time. The following week would see the club embarrassed at home by Bournemouth leading to McClaren's dismissal.
2. April 2nd: Norwich 3 - NUFC 2
Rafa's third match. First a tough 1-0 loss to champions Leicester City had us believing these players were more than stones. Next was Mitrovic's statue moment against Sunderland to salvage points. This was the two week run when it all had to change. Points from fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and Norwich had to be found, and fortune looked to favor the Magpies. Norwich's first half stoppage time goal was a gut punch. Then Mitrovic continues his run of fame to tie the match at 71 minutes. Then Newcastle concedes three minutes later. Then Mitrovic converts a PK in the 86th minute to give us points. Right? Of course not. Three minutes into stoppage time Newcastle folded. Instead of being above the drop zone they were now six points from safety with seven matches to play.
1. May 7th: Aston Villa 0 - NUFC 0
Really? Sitting on eight points from the previous four matches. You drew Liverpool...away...coming from behind!!!! I am empty.
So what did it miss?