NEWCASTLE United have been handed a fiendish start to life in the second tier - opening their Championship campaign with a trip to West Brom before facing Reading at home.
The pressure on the club to find a speedy resolution to the Alan Shearer and ownership saga has been heightened by a fixture list that pairs them with five ex-Premier League sides for the first month. Sheffield Wednesday come to St James's Park on August 19 before a trip to Crystal Palace and a home game against Nigel Pearson's Leicester City.
The first Tyne-Tees derby is on December 19 against Middlesbrough, while the club finish the campaign with a trip to QPR. Roy Keane does not bring his Ipswich side to St James's Park until April 24.
While it is a tough opening for United, it also alleiviates some of the pressure on the club on their return to the Championship. Had they been faced with a trip to one of the lesser lights like Scunthorpe (Glanford Park welcomes United on October 20) the sense of frustration among United fans - as well as the risk of an upset - would have been acute.
But with such a difficult opening, Shearer or whoever the new manager may be will want to start preparations as soon as possible.