Premier League preview: Newcastle v Reading
Alan Pardew insists Newcastle are not yet a club in crisis but a loss to lowly Reading on Saturday may trigger the panic button.
A revelation last season, Pardew's side are now angling dangerously towards the relegation zone with only a two-point cushion back to Wigan and Aston Villa, who have now slipped into the mire.
Last week's goalless stalemate at Norwich represented Newcastle's first point in four league games and while it was a form of progress, it extended their winless run away from home this season.
Newcastle's raw patch has seen them collect only seven points in their past 12 Premier League games.
Centre-back Fabricio Colocinni, who has asked to leave the club this January, played the full game at Carrow Road while instrumental midfielder Yohan Cabaye played his first minutes since the start of November.
The Frenchman's absence along with compatriot Hatem Ben Arfa has been glaring in a run of games that has lacked the duo's customary spark.
The Colocinni issue will likely drag on through the transfer window, while Pardew has another big hole to fill up front given Demba Ba's sudden move to Chelsea.
The loss of Ba will hurt Newcastle dearly but it at least provides Papiss Cisse with a chance to assume the lone striker role after struggling for much of the season alongside his departed Senegalese team-mate.
Cisse rose to stardom with 13 goals in his first 12 games following his move from Bundesliga side Freiburg in last season's transfer window but is a player, like many at Newcastle, down on confidence.
Pardew admitted as much during the week but after reportedly tying up a deal for Marseille front man Loic Remy, the deal now appears to have stalled and he may instead be off to bottom-of-the pile QPR - a deal that would sum up Newcastle's lacklustre season to date.
"Papiss needs help and, unfortunately, I couldn't give him that," Pardew said of last Sunday's game.
"I haven't got another striker who I think is at the level that there should be at this football club."
Brian McDermott's Reading keep plugging along despite many pundits writing off the club as an obvious relegation candidate.
The Royals are nothing if not entertaining and provided yet another nail-biting finish at the Madejski Stadium to come from two goals down to defeat West Brom 3-2.
The precious three points provides another shot in the arm and edges them ever closer to safety, something that looked unlikely midway through December.
McDermott has already bolstered his squad this January with the acquisitions of Hope Akpan from Crawley Town, Fulham right-back Stephen Kelly and Sporting Lisbon's former captain Daniel Carrico.