By Michael Hann
Dressing-room unrest, a change of manager and supporter dissatisfaction, Newcastle United’s disastrous season will come to a close on Sunday with the north-east club needing a victory against West Ham United to guarantee Premier League survival.
With Burnley and Queens Park Rangers already down, the final piece of the Premier League’s relegation puzzle will fall into place on Sunday – and it will be either Newcastle or Hull City who go down.
Hull remain favourites for the drop as they currently occupy 18th place with 34 points and not only have to beat fourth-placed Manchester United but must also hope Newcastle, two points above them, fall to the Hammers.
Newcastle’s sorry season is epitomised by a run of nine defeats in their last ten league matches and supporter protests are planned against owner Mike Ashley’s running of the club at St James’ Park on Sunday.
“It’s come to this and we have to deal with it. Newcastle’s interim manager John Carver told reporters.
“We need the supporters this weekend. Put all your differences to one side and get behind the team. We will have an inquest after.”
The club’s plight is a far cry from Kevin Keegan’s reign as manager when he established Newcastle as a Premier League force.
These days, however, Newcastle supporters are more used to relegation battles rather than title challenges, with the club last dropping to the Championship in 2009.
Hull boss Steve Bruce still bears the scars from his nine-year stint as a rugged central defender for United but the 54-year-old is hoping his former club does not supply the knockout blow to his side’s survival chances.
“We just have to beat Man United and I haven’t done that in 17 years (as a manager),” Bruce told reporters.
“Manchester United probably owe me something after wrecking my knee, my hip, and my ankle playing for them.”
Sunderland, who drew 0-0 at Arsenal on Wednesday and are now safe, travel to Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea will lift the Premier League title for the first time since 2010.
Apart from the final relegation spot, the only other outstanding issue to be decided is which teams will finish fifth and sixth to definitely claim two of the three Europa League places.
Liverpool, who are fifth on 62 points, travel to Stoke City while Spurs, in sixth on 61, travel to Everton.
Southampton, who are seventh on 60, travel to Manchester City, who will finish second, but the team who finishes seventh will only take a Europa League spot if Arsenal beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup final on May 30.
If Villa win that, they will take the third Europa League spot instead of the seventh placed team.
All matches kick-off at 5pm Cyprus time on Sunday.