Rudderless, managerless and still on the market, Newcastle United today make their first public appearance since May's humiliating and embarrassing relegation from the Premier League.
It will be in Dublin at the home of Shamrock Rovers and it is another indication of Newcastle's reduced status that Rovers' manager Michael O'Neill, a former Newcastle player, said: "We could do without this game, if I'm being honest."
Newcastle fans looking at the future through their fingers hardly need another remark at which to squirm but until there is some stability restored to St James' Park, some sense of direction – and a manager – the cringing will not stop and Newcastle will stagger ever backwards.
Rovers' League of Ireland match against Bray last night was O'Neill's priority. It means today Newcastle will face reserves and triallists at the Tallaght Stadium.
If the occasion feels vague, that is not inappropriate given Newcastle's last 49 days. Fluid would be a generous description of the club's situation since that relegation Sunday at Aston Villa; drift would be more accurate.
Even before he departed Villa Park, it must have been in owner Mike Ashley's mind to sell up. Two days later Ashley informed Alan Shearer of that intention and, five days later, the world. Ashley's stated asking price was £100m and two months ago it seemed like a reasonable fee for a club with such – albeit seemingly continually untapped – potential.
Keith Harris of investment bank Seymour Pierce was engaged to sell the club but although Harris identified "the end of June" as a hopeful deadline, that has come and gone and Newcastle remain unsold with the daily speculation regarding interested parties from Oman to New York wearying a fanbase already dejected by Ashley's remarkably unstructured two-year tenure.
Former Liverpool player Steve McMahon said yesterday that the Singapore-based Profitable Group he represents has made a firm offer. "We've had a bid in, it's under serious consideration," McMahon told the Straits Times.
Newcastle made no comment but the optimism in the city early in the week that next midweek could bring a buyer was on the wane last night. So the waiting goes on while, in Shearer's memorable phrase, "another room burns". This is an ashes summer on Tyneside.
"Catastrophic" was Ashley's view of last season but the clarity of that opinion has not been matched by his decisions. Despite hailing the temporary appointment of Shearer, Ashley has not followed it with a permanent contract. Shearer is thus left in limbo and will not be travelling to Dublin.
The detailed plans that Shearer presented to Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias about how Newcastle could restructure their squad and prepare for a long promotion campaign have been left unopened. It smells of wasted opportunity. Players Shearer had identified have begun to join other clubs.
Today the squad are once again led by stand-in coach Chris Hughton – for the third time in nine months. "We've got to do ourselves justice," Hughton said of this afternoon's match, not something the squad has a good track-record on. Hughton is likely to field Joey Barton, the first time the midfielder will be seen in Newcastle colours since his spiteful, ridiculous dismissal at Liverpool in the relegation run-in.
Barton has stated that he wants to stay – Shearer thinks the opposite – but there is a whiff of mutiny in the air with established players muttering their discontent. The one consolation for Newcastle supporters is that they will no longer have to endure the sight of the charmless Michael Owen at their club. And in Newcastle's hole, you take any consolation.
Toon planning: Who'll still be there in 2009-2010
Wanted by Alan Shearer to stand alongside Habib Beye as the core of the Newcastle defence. Taylor would like to stay, if Shearer is manager.
* Habib Beye
A club captain in waiting, the full-back signed from Marseilles is one of few successful imports in recent years.
Not in demand elsewhere but good enough to play in midfield in the Championship.
Like Guthrie, the ex-Manchester United player is not in demand. He has one year left on his contract.
Lanky local forward. But will need a partner with Owen and Viduka gone, and probably Martins to follow.Reuse content