Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton has spoken openly of the "testing times" his club are going through, after an unfortunate coinciding of a poor run of form, some well-publicised legal issues surrounding the striker Andy Carroll and the departure of the assistant manager Colin Calderwood to Hibernian.
Newcastle have taken just five points from their last six Premier League games, and needed a last-minute header from Fabricio Coloccini on Saturday to save them from a home defeat to Wigan Athletic, who are no great travellers. True to Newcastle's traditions, their results have been consistently surprising: they routed Aston Villa at home before losing there to Blackpool, then won consecutive away games at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge, before a home defeat to Stoke City.
Moreover, top scorer Carroll was arrested and charged with assault last weekend, and was only granted conditional bail provided he lives with the club captain, Kevin Nolan. Carroll is accused of assaulting an 18-year-old former girlfriend at her home, and has to stay with Nolan every night, except those when Newcastle are playing. The case has been adjourned until 10 January.
Hughton said: "They are testing times. But these are periods you have to go through and, certainly at this football club, we have been able to go through these periods and if anything it has made us stronger as an outfit and stronger as a team. I see no reason why we can't do that again.
"From my point of view and the club's point of view, these are the things we have to deal with and we have to deal with them in the appropriate manner. It is a different era these days and these are the things you have to deal with."
Newcastle can barely afford to do without Carroll. He was their top scorer last season, with 19 goals, and has four already this campaign, including a hat-trick in the 6-0 win over Villa. He was rumoured to be on the brink of a full England call-up before sustaining an ankle injury earlier this month, so it is important to Newcastle that he should not lose focus. "With Andy, he has concentrated very much on his football. He is a strong-minded individual and I am quite sure he will be in the right frame of mind to play football," Hughton added.
Another problem for Newcastle is the exit of Hughton's assistant Calderwood, who has left to become manager of Hibernian, his first managerial post since being sacked by Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day 2008. Hughton is particularly keen to fill this vacancy on his staff as soon as possible. Plausible external candidates include Steve Clarke and Clive Allen, while among internal possibilities are Peter Beardsley and Steve Stone. "It will be my appointment who comes in and it is one I don't want to take too long over in making my mind up. What I need to do is go through the possibilities. I have my own ideas and it is one we don't want to drag on too long."
But on the immediate priority – the team's poor form – Hughton sounded relaxed. He knows that all teams go through spells of poor form, and is keen simply to start improving soon: "Whether it be this period of the season, halfway through the season or at the end of the season, these are the pressures you have to deal with."
Defender Sol Campbell will play no part against West Ham on Saturday after failing to shake off his thigh problem, but Nolan, who was rested against Wigan, is fit and Danny Simpson could be in line for a return to senior action after making a third appearance for the reserves on Tuesday following his ankle injury.
Meanwhile goalkeeper Steve Harper could return from shoulder surgery within four weeks after an encouraging visit to his specialist.