Steve McClaren is battling to save his job at Newcastle United.
The Magpies slipped back into the relegation zone after Saturday night’s 5-1 defeat at Chelsea, with calls for McClaren to be sacked in the wake of his team’s abject performance.
But head coach McClaren is safe in his post – for now.
However, the 54-year-old, appointed as head coach last summer, knows a defeat to Stoke City on March 2 – Newcastle must wait a fortnight to get back in action – could spell the end of his St James’s Park reign.
McClaren and his beleaguered players will tomorrow head to La Manga, in Spain, for a training camp and a friendly against Lillestrom on Saturday.
McClaren’s future now seemingly rests on the work he does – and the response of his players – between now and the visit to the Britannia Stadium.
“We knew this period was coming, and we’ve planned for it,” said McClaren after the humbling at Chelsea.
“We hope to be in a better condition – mentally and physically – in 18 days time.
“We didn’t deal with the ball very well, and usually we have a team of footballers who can deal with the ball.
“They didn’t – they gave the ball away too many times, and then it’s difficult to recover back into shape. They punished us because we didn’t deal with the ball and handle it as well as we should have done.
“That’s why we are where we are – we’re inconsistent.
“There’s a lot of games where we’ve kind of performed but not scored goals.
“But we’re losing games because we’re not scoring enough goals and we’re not keeping clean sheets. We have to somehow solve that.”
Third-bottom Newcastle are level on points with 17th-placed Norwich City and a point ahead of Sunderland.
They were three goals down in 17 minutes to Chelsea, as Diego Costa, Pedro and Willian pounced. Further efforts from Pedro and Bertrand Traore made it five before Andros Townsend slammed in a fine, left-footed strike for the merest of consolations.
McClaren said: “We went on a very good run (after a 5-1 defeat to Crystal Palace in November) and that’s all we can do now.
“I think this probably the third time that we’ve had a result like this, and we need to come back and react.
“They’ve done it before, and that’s why I’m calm and upbeat and looking forward to the 18 days.
“I think we will be fresher and we’ll have injuries back, especially defenders, and we’ll be in a better position for the last 12 games.”
The Tynesiders hope to have a number of players, including defender Chancel Mbemba and forward Siem de Jong, back from injury for the Stoke fixture.
Meanwhile, Georginio Wijnaldum says his half-time withdrawal at Chelsea, replaced by Jack Colback, left him baffled.
Asked if his substitution was a “tactical” measure, midfielder Wijnaldum said: “I don’t know, this is something you must ask the manager.
“I think it’s his job to answer this question, and not mine.”
The Dutchman added: “I think we didn’t start well and they scored three in I don’t know how many minutes. Then it didn’t seem possible to win.”
Wijnaldum, one of the few players prepared to talk about the match, refused to divulge what McClaren told his players after the final whistle.
Asked what was said in the dressing room after the game, he added: “Yeah, he said something, but I keep it between me and him.”
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (Baba 38), Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Hazard, Willian (Loftus-Cheek 80), Pedro, Costa (Traore 60). Subs not used: Begovic, Mikel, Kenedy, Remy. Goals: Costa 5, Pedro 9 & 59, Willian 17, Traore 83
Newcastle: Elliot, Janmaat, Taylor, Coloccini, Aarons, Shelvey, Tiote (Lascelles 67), Sissoko, Wijnaldum (Colback 46), Townsend, Mitrovic (Doumbia 70). Subs not used: Perez, Saivet, Darlow, Riviere. Booked: Taylor, Shelvey. Goal: Townsend 90
Att: 41,622. Ref: Roger East (Wiltshire)