It could hardly have gone worse for Newcastle United or visiting Norwich City on Tuesday in a 1-1 draw that left the Magpies and Canaries heavy favorites to be relegated from the Premier League.
Consider that Norwich City had won a pair of games under new coach Dean Smith to pull clear of last place and headed up north to find a gift red card in the ninth minute. What did they come away with? A lucky late equalizer just to take a point from a winless team.
And if you think that’s bad, consider that Ciaran Clark’s sending-off meant that Newcastle’s best chance to win all season became a long shot. Then hopes rose dramatically when the Magpies got a thoroughly deserved opener and seemingly set sail on a path to straighten their season… only to concede a late equalizer and dip right back into 20th place.
And now, a failure to win Sunday against Burnley — one of the few teams to look as poor as Newcastle and Norwich — would send Eddie Howe’s men into a brutal run of fixtures at least six points behind safety.
So while it’s easy to call Newcastle’s draw with visiting Norwich a win for the visitors, remember that the terrible trio of Newcastle, Norwich, and Burnley also require a fourth team for just one of them to remain in the PL next season.
“The challenge ahead is huge,” Howe said. “We’re under no illusions as to the size of the task. Draws aren’t going to be enough. You need the spirit in the group to deliver what we need. I feel the spirit has grown and that’s going to be key for us. … The whole day in terms of what the fans gave to the team and to me – I loved every second of that. I’m desperate to reward them with the wins everyone wants.”
Howe admits that the Burnley match is already looming large, but Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey says vibes are still really good around St. James’ Park.
And with the injuries at Watford and overall talent level at Newcastle compared to Norwich and Burnley, maybe he’s right to think that way.
“Everyone stepped up to the plate,” Shelvey said. “We’re confident we can get out of the situation we’re in. We’ve got a huge game Saturday. We’ll recover and go again. I’m not really concerned because I know what we have in the dressing room. We just have to keep believing and stick together. Everyone is buzzing around the place. We’ll keep fighting for these fans.”
Newcastle is now being relegated in 77 percent of scenarios run by statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight.com and Norwich City isn’t far behind at 71 percent. No other club is cracking 40 percent, with only Burnley and Watford crossing the 30 percent threshold.
Norwich boss Dean Smith thought the game was more important for Newcastle than his Canaries, who are unbeaten in four-straight matches, but also felt that the Canaries performed as poorly as they had in the three matches of his tenure.
“We knew this was a big game, probably bigger for Newcastle because they had not won yet this season,” Smith said. “Defensively I thought we were good. I told them to keep their heads at half-time because you knew Newcastle would be looking for any touch to win set pieces and free kicks.
“That is how they ended up getting their goal. But the perseverance and character of the players are there for all to see. They kept battling away, they get another point.”
And that’s what both Newcastle and Norwich will have to do — at least until the transfer window opens in January — even if Newcastle fails to beat Burnley or Norwich City slips to a multi-game pointless run: Focus on the next game. So simple to say, but so difficult to execute in a Premier League with fewer and fewer clear winnable games, and FA Cup has difficult fixtures too.