Steve McClaren watched his Newcastle United side suffer a seventh successive away defeat in all competitions last night – and insisted they had made “progress”.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s late goal gave Stoke City a 1-0 win at the Britannia Stadium, making it six straight Premier League losses on the road.
The result – and Swansea City’s win over Arsenal – seemingly leaves second-bottom Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich City fighting to avoid filling the last two relegation spots – with a six-point gap having opened up to the Swans.
For his part, head coach McClaren – whose side take on Bournemouth at St James’s Park in what must be a “must-win” game on Saturday – was heartened by his team’s performance, which followed a 5-1 defeat to Chelsea in their last match 18 days earlier.
“If you see the performance at Chelsea, and compare it to this evening, then we’ve definitely made progress,” said McClaren, who was jeered by the travelling supporters after the game.
“I thought there were good individual displays, but overall it was a good team performance.
“You could see there was a determination to work for each other, and a spirit there, not just from the 11 that started, but from the subs as well.
“This game is cruel, and it’s been cruel to us again, but we’ll dust ourselves down and go again on Saturday.
“We’ve got 11 games left, and there’s a certain amount of wins we need.
“We don’t quite know the target yet, but we’ve got the talent to do that. If we show the attitude we have tonight, we’ll get them.”
After a dour first half, in atrocious conditions, Shaqiri produced the game’s defining moment nine minutes from time, just as it appeared the contest was trudging towards a stalemate.
The forward drifted off the right wing and received a pass from Mame Biram Diouf, steadying himself before firing his third Stoke goal beyond a static Rob Elliot.
Newcastle almost mustered an unlikely equaliser when Jonjo Shelvey’s cross was met by sub Seydou Doumbia, with Jack Butland springing away to his left to claw the ball out with his left hand.
And Shaqiri’s goal was almost upstaged by Marko Arnautovic with the last kick of the game, the Austrian’s fine volley clattering against the crossbar jut before the final whistle sounded.
Supporters had chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing” at McClaren in the second half when he replaced the injured Yoan Gouffran with Emmanuel Riviere rather than Ayose Perez. And his job as head coach is on the line with 11 games left to play.
However, the 54-year-old expects to see the season out.
Asked if he would be leading the club at the end of the campaign, he said: “I don’t see why not. We’ve been in this position all season, and we’re there for a reason.
“We have to continue the process of getting out of that. There are 11 games to go, but, as you saw, the reaction of the players has been good. We’re going to need that again on Saturday.”
McClaren felt the result was “cruel” on his team.
“We didn’t deserve that,” he said. “Jack Butland has been a bit of a curse for us this season. He made four magnificent saves at St James’s, and then produced another one at the end there that denied us a point.
“That’s the difference at the present moment.
“But we’ve talked a lot about what we need to do in the last 18 days, and I think we started that process in terms of attitude, work-rate and becoming harder to beat.
“The dressing room was frustrated, angry and disappointed – everything you’d expect from a game I felt we shouldn’t have lost. But football is a cruel game and tonight proved it again.”
Meanwhile, McClaren and his staff will assess Andros Townsend ahead of the Bournemouth game.
The winger missed the Stoke match with an unspecified injury. Midfielder Cheick Tiote also sat out the game.
Stoke lost ex-Sunderland full-back Phil Bardsley to injury but were thrilled to climb into seventh place.
Stoke: Butland, Bardsley (Muniesa 26), Cameron, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Imbula, Shaqiri, Afellay (Diouf 70), Arnautovic, Walters (Crouch 69). Subs not used: Ireland, Joselu, Krkic, Haugaard. Booked: Muniesa. Goal: Shaqiri 81
Newcastle: Elliot, Janmaat, Lascelles, Taylor, Dummett, Colback (Doumbia 84), Shelvey, Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Gouffran (Riviere 74), Mitrovic (Perez 84). Subs not used: Aarons, Saivet, Darlow, Sterry.
Ref: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).