You do not have to be a brain surgeon to work out where things are going wrong for Newcastle United at the moment.
In the 14 Premier League games since their five-goal Boxing Day splurge against nine-man Stoke City, the Magpies have failed to find the net ten times.
It is not a problem Newcastle should ever suffer, but it has been caused by chronic neglect.
The last time the Magpies beat this afternoon’s opponents Manchester United home and away, it was by an aggregate score of 11-7.
You can safely put your mortgage on that not happening this season. Granted, those were scorelines from a bygone era – the 1930-31 season – but a spirit of adventure remains part of Newcastle’s DNA.
Theirs is a club built on heroic No.9s. The modern-day blueprint came from Kevin Keegan, whose approach was always to prefer a 4-3 win to a 1-0.
Someone who understood what Newcastle United are all about would know that. The man calling the shots at St James’s Park is Mike Ashley. With nothing concrete to play for in the run-in – and didn’t that show at St Mary’s last week? – supporters do not even have the consolation of a bit of excitement. Meaningless end-of-season 4-3 defeats are not so hard to swallow, but uneventful 1-0 reverses can be excruciating.
Even manager Alan Pardew recognises the problem.
He said: “Somewhere along the line we need to get goals.” He is, though, looking elsewhere for the solution.
“You need a foundation to score goals and our problem at Southampton was we never had a foundation,” said Pardew.
“In all the games we’ve played this year, we’ve had a good foundation to try and score goals, but if you lose that side of it you have no chance.
“I can think back to Everton where we had a good structure in the team, we didn’t score the goals, but we had two near-misses and yet we had a foundation to what we were trying to achieve.
“That’s been my priority this week, not so much scoring goals but getting us a foundation and a desire in the game. You need to have a structure to the team so everyone knows where they’re supposed to be at all times and to have a sound reaction to conceding a goal.
“As a group we know last week was so far below what we can produce that the only way is up from that. Goalscoring is an area where we’re trying to think of ideas, things in the team to try and help us get a goal.”
That Pardew is reduced to creative thinking is because he does not have the tools to fix things directly.
The lack of goals has not been caused by a rash of injuries. Loic Remy has been sorely missed while nursing a calf strain in the last four games, but fringe players Sammy Ameobi (ankle) and Gabriel Obertan (knee) are the only other attacking absentees of recent weeks.
Bad judgement has been much more of a factor than bad luck. The Magpies sold Yohan Cabaye, their seven-goal midfielder, and failed to replace him.
Luuk de Jong did come in – on loan – to bolster the attack but a player who failed to score at all in the first half of the season is still to do so in the second.
It does not take a genius to work out Newcastle were pushing their luck in the January transfer window.
Yet the problems are not new to this season.
Only Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City scored less than Newcastle’s 41 Premier League goals last term. The Rs finished bottom of the division, the Potters sacked their manager and demanded a more attractive brand of football from his successor Mark Hughes. Pardew admits: “It’s not something unrecognised from last season (when Newcastle scored ten in their final 15 matches in all competitions).
“The back end of last season we struggled to score and this year we addressed that by moving Cabaye up to the 10 role further up the pitch and getting Loic on loan because he’s not our player. Now both those aren’t around we’re back to where we were.”
Recognising the problem is one thing, acting on it is where Newcastle have struggled.
Pardew made it very plain all summer he needed multiple signings at the business end of the pitch. All he got was an on-loan striker, albeit a very good one in Remy.
With the Frenchman liable to be tempted away to a Champions League club, de Jong not making a very strong case to be kept on and Shola Ameobi out of contract, things are going to get worse before they get better.
Pardew will have to play the same game of trying to press Ashley into action – hopefully with a different result.
All that is for the future, though. Today is about making the most of a Manchester United side a shadow of those in recent years, and more than likely with one eye on Munich, where they have a European Cup quarter-final second leg on Wednesday.
The key for both sides will probably be who opens the scoring.
Pardew added: “The team who scores first wins 74% of the time.
“Well, there’s a reaction to that goal.
“It doesn’t mean you have to go straight back up the other end to try and score, you might have to take time to get that goal to get back in the game.
“That’s where Premier League teams fall down sometimes, we fell down at Southampton because we didn’t react well to the goals.
“Whether we were trying to score a goal quickly or trying to defend not to go further behind, that was probably the most disappointing thing in that game, our reaction to the goals.”
Just scoring one themselves would be nice.