As the old saying goes, ‘when it rains it pours’.
Whilst the 18th placed Magpies won’t literally be sodden as they bask in the Spanish heat at their plush La Manga training complex, under-fire United head coach Steve McClaren will be ruing the unwelcome news that the team’s torch bearer for much of this season, Aleksandar Mitrovic, has suffered a knee ligament injury.
The Serbian’s name was noticeably absent from the 26-man playing squad which was released for Newcastle’s five-day hot weather training camp last Monday, triggering fears that the injury which forced him off in the second-half of last weeks 5-1 hammering at Stamford Bridge could be a serious one.
Speaking to the club’s official website in midweek, McClaren addressed the uncertainty surrounding the striker’s absence and confirmed fans’ suspicions:
“He’s got a knee injury,”
“We’re only bringing players here who can actually train over the next four days, and play in the game on Saturday.
“Mitro has a medial ligament injury, so it could be a couple of weeks – we’re hoping not too long.”
Despite the former England manager’s initial prognosis sounding somewhat encouraging, it’s difficult to completely trust the forecast of a man whose assertions are habitually blighted by an unhealthy dose of optimism.
Although Mitrovic has only scored five goals since his summer switch to Tyneside, the robust 21-year-old’s influence on the Magpies’ overall play has grown significantly over the course of the season, and without him on the field they look like an outfit devoid of all ideas and hope – as shown in the painful first half display at Everton earlier this month.
If the former Anderlecht hitman is ruled out of vital upcoming fixtures against Stoke City and Bournemouth at the beginning of March, it will come as a huge blow to a relegation-threatened Newcastle side that can ill afford to take anything less than four points from their next two games.
Following McClaren’s appointment in the summer, Newcastle released a club statement lauding the Englishman as an ‘innovative, forward-thinking coach’, however, for a majority of this season, the Magpies’ have been discernibly one-dimensional; lacking any form of effective plan B when games don’t go to plan.
With 12 games of the campaign remaining and McClaren’s position at St James’ Park under intense scrutiny, failure to formulate a useful attacking strategy that can shake the Magpies’ out of their malaise over the coming weeks is likely to lead to the former Derby County manager’s swift dismissal.
With that said, there is room for a quantum of hope.
For perhaps the first time this season, McClaren does have a number of senior attacking players fit and available for selection; many of whom will be itching to prove their worth to the club after lengthy spells on the treatment table
With that said, let’s look at the fringe men who could be tasked with stepping into the breach in Mitro’s absence.