FOR years, Newcastle United couldn’t get deals over the line.
Now, the team itself can’t get over the Premier League finishing line.
Is it any wonder?
What good is £34m in the bank when the club is in freefall and facing relegation from the division?
Newcastle, beaten for the seventh successive time on Saturday, didn’t sign a single player in January.
And the incomings and outgoings of last summer didn’t address the lack of depth to a squad which, for some time, hasn’t been ill-equipped for the rigours of a full season.
The complacency of the club’s hierarchy in recent years has been breathtaking.
Managing director Lee Charnley, speaking early this year, said it was hard to “get value” in the January transfer market.
It’s harder still to get out of the Championship.
Davide Santon left the club on loan on transfer deadline day – along with five other players – while fellow defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s move to AS Roma was made permanent.
And head coach John Carver was left with an injury-ravaged squad which wasn’t fit for purpose.
Weeks after Santon’s exit, Carver could barely name a back four.
United, according to its last set of accounts, is a club wealthy on paper, but impoverished on the pitch.
When the final whistle confirmed Newcastle’s worst run of results for 38 years, even the boos were half-hearted.
The lifeblood has been sucked out of the stadium – and the club’s long-suffering fans – over the past few years.
St James’s Park used to be a cacophony. Now you can every every cough.
Sadly, the 3-2 defeat to Swansea City didn’t surprise anyone.
This season has been half-hearted.
There was once blood, sweat and tears at the iconic stadium.
There was once pride and passion.
There was once a sense of belonging.
Not now. Pounds and pence seemingly mean more to Ashley than the passion and pride of the club’s support.
The real drama in the North East was down the A19 at Victoria Park, where Hartlepool United secured their Football League status with a game to spare.
If only we could see some of that spirit on Tyneside.
Newcastle’s own battle again relegation goes on with four matches left to play.
If the season was to last two more games, there would be no question about the outcome.
As it is, the club has four games to get the three or four points that it will need to stay up, but anyone who has watched the team in recent weeks will struggle to see just where the next point is coming from.
That said, Newcastle were the better team for much of the first half, and visiting captain Ashley Williams had to implore his team-mates to “liven up” after a 10-minute spell camped in their own half.
Ayoze Perez’s first goal since December, scored in the 20th minute, gave United a deserved lead.
Emmanuel Riviere, recalled by Carver, outpaced Angel Rangel on the left and his cross was inadvertently knocked to Perez by Jordi Amat.
Then came more protests against owner Mike Ashley, who was not at St James’s Park.
Supporters stood up and chanted against him in the 34th minute – the club had £34.1m in the bank at the end of the last financial year – as Charnley looked on.
Fans even mocked the empty seats around them.
The 46,884 crowd was the lowest of the season. Watching the club, it seems, has become a chore.
On the pitch, Newcastle just had to get into the break with their lead intact.
Swansea had two free headers late in the half, and it was third time lucky for them in the 45th minute, when Nelson Oliveira out-muscled Jonas Gutierrez, also recalled by Carver, to head a Gylfi Sigurdsson corner past Tim Krul.
The afternoon unravelled further after the break.
Garry Monk’s side took possession from a Tim Krul kick and a clever moved ended with Sigurdsson stroking the ball past Krul.
United lost Daryl Janmaat to illness later in the half, and the momentum was with Swansea, whose third goal was scored 20 minutes from time by substitute Jack Cork.
No one in a black and white shirt got near them as they strode upfield.
And substitute Siem de Jong’s delicate volley from a Jack Colback cross – it was the fit-again forward’s first goal for the club – was nothing more than a footnote to another depressing afternoon at St James’s Park, which has witnessed seven league home defeats this season.
Carver himself was involved in a heated exchange with two fans sat behind the dugout.
Newcastle no longer looks or feels united, and unity as always been the club’s strength.
If United do crawl over the line, it won’t be a cause for celebration, unlike at Victoria Park.
Newcastle might be in the black financially, but the club is in debt to its supporters.
And they’ll need to be repaid next season.