Newcastle relegated from the Premier League: What went wrong?
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 12/05/16 1:41pm
Sunderland’s emphatic victory over Everton has condemned their north east rivals Newcastle to relegation from the Premier League.
The Magpies had a pre-season target of a top-eight finish but have spent the majority of the season in the relegation zone and their return to the Championship was confirmed by Sunderland's 3-0 win over Everton at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday.
Relegation zone regulars
Newcastle have been out of the relegation zone for just 10 matchdays out of 37 this season
But where did it go wrong for the club? We look at some of the key factors…
Benitez appointed too late
Rafa Benitez could barely have imagined he'd be involved in a relegation scrap with Newcastle when he was appointed manager of Real Madrid at the start of this season. However, had he arrived in the north east sooner he may well have been able to steer the Magpies to safety.
Steve McClaren, himself only named Newcastle boss last summer, saw his failed tenure end on 11 March after weeks of speculation about his future. By that stage, seven defeats in 10 Premier League games had left Newcastle stuck in the relegation zone and Benitez was given just 10 fixtures to save their top-flight status.
The first four games yielded just one point - a dramatic draw in the Tyne-Wear derby - but Benitez has since inspired his side to a five-game unbeaten run (their best streak since November 2014) and has matched the two wins McClaren managed in his final 12 games with victories over Swansea and Crystal Palace.
Benitez v McClaren
Rafa Benitez: P9 W2 D4 L3 W% 22.2
Steve McClaren: P28 W6 D6 L16 W% 21.4
The problem for Newcastle was it was too little, too late. A situation reminiscent of the club's 2008/09 relegation, when Alan Shearer took over from temporary boss Chris Hughton with eight games to play. "They have made exactly the same mistake as seven years ago by not giving the new man enough time," Shearer told The Sun. "In 2009, I was made manager with just eight games to go. I knew straight away it was not long enough. It took Rafa four of his 10 games to work his team out."
For a club renowned for their number nines, Newcastle are desperately lacking a goalscorer this season. Newcastle's leading marksman is midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum with nine - but four of those strikes came in one game against Norwich.
Newcastle top scorers - 2015/16 Premier League
The club's main striker Aleksandar Mitrovic - signed last summer for £13m after impressing in Belgium - has managed just eight goals in the Premier League, while midfielder Andros Townsend, who only joined the club at the end of January, is already two behind third top-scorer Ayoze Perez's total of six.
Newcastle managed just 28 goals in 28 games under McClaren and, while their shooting has improved under Benitez - they have netted 11 goals in nine games under the Spaniard and have failed to score in just two of those matches - the goalscoring feats of Sunderland's Jermain Defoe are an obvious difference between the rivals.
As with most relegated teams, Newcastle have had problems at both ends of the pitch. While Mitrovic and co have been off target up front, only Aston Villa have shipped more goals than the Magpies at the back.
Most goals conceded - Premier League 2015/16
Once again, there has been an improvement under Benitez - Newcastle have recorded three clean sheets in his nine games in charge after managing just five in their previous 28. Indeed, six of the 10 goals conceded since Benitez's appointment came in two games against Norwich and Southampton.
Newcastle certainly haven't been helped in this area by injuries, though. First-choice 'keeper Tim Krul has missed most of the season with a cruciate injury, while key centre-back and captain Fabricio Coloccini has spent significant time on the sidelines, as have fellow defenders Massadio Haidara, Kevin Mbabu, Steven Taylor and Paul Dummett.
Defeats to bottom-half rivals
While Newcastle have beaten Tottenham and Liverpool and twice drawn with Manchester United, they have lost to every team in the bottom half at least once this season, with the exception of Aston Villa - although a failure to beat the Premier League's rock-bottom club on Saturday has proved costly.
The bottom-half table has proved to be significant over the course of this Premier League season - Newcastle's fellow relegated clubs Villa and Norwich also feature in the bottom three of head-to-head fixtures between sides 11th-20th.
Sunderland, in contrast, have taken six more points than Newcastle from teams in the bottom half - and still have 13th-placed Watford to play.
Bottom half head-to-head table - Premier League
Signings failing to perform
Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this season for Newcastle followers will be the failure of major signings to deliver. The club paid out £48m last summer on Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba and Florian Thauvin.
Newcastle's 2015/16 signings
Georginio Wijnaldum - £14.5m
Aleksandar Mitrovic - £13m
Chancel Mbemba - £8.5m
Florian Thauvin - £12m
Henri Saivet - £5m
Jonjo Shelvey - £12m
Andros Townsend - £12.5m
Wijnaldum is the pick of those recruits, showing flashes of what made him an integral part of PSV's Eredivisie title-winning team last season, and 21-year-old Mbemba appears to have potential but Mitrovic has regularly misfired, while attacking midfielder Thauvin returned to Marseille on loan in January without registering a Premier League goal or assist.
Newcastle invested heavily again in January, spending almost £30m on Henri Saivet, Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend. The latter has undoubtedly proved an inspired purchase, scoring four and assisting twice to boost the Magpies. But Townsend's impact hasn't been matched by Newcastle's other big-money buys.