John Carver will never forget the look on Alan Shearer's face immediately after Newcastle United were relegated at Aston Villa six years ago and is fervently hoping he does not experience similar torture tomorrow.
“I’d come back from Canada and I was watching on television in a pub,” said the Tynesider, who had then just resigned from his post as the head coach of Toronto in the MLS but now occupies Shearer’s old shoes. “It was a difficult time for me and on that day I genuinely didn’t speak for an hour afterwards.
“I remember seeing the pictures of Alan on the pitch afterwards and I thought: ‘I hope that never, ever, happens to me.’ As it happens, I saw Alan only the other day and we talked about his feelings at the time and I told him what I felt. I just said: ‘I hope I don’t have to experience that.’ Hopefully I won’t.”
Four players from 2009 – Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez, Ryan Taylor and Tim Krul – will be involved against West Ham at St James' Park in a game which, depending on Hull's result, Newcastle may need to win.
A fifth survivor from that descent into the Championship, the injured Steven Taylor, will watch anxiously from the sidelines.
“I don’t think I’ll be asking the likes of Colo and Jonas to talk about the day at Aston Villa to the other players specifically,” Carver said. “But they – and Ryan and Tim – know what it feels like. It wasn’t nice.”
After presiding over the collection of one point from the past 10 games, Newcastle’s head coach is willing to press almost any button in the hope of provoking a response from his squad.
"I considered showing them something to reinforce what it's like to be in the Premier League compared to the next division down," said the 50-year-old Carver, who must decide whether Papiss Cissé is fit enough to start in attack after knee surgery and whether he trusts Mike Williamson sufficiently to recall the centre-half following suspension for a recent red card.
“I thought of compiling a film of what it’s like to go to Old Trafford, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge compared to what it’s like to go to the lesser clubs with a smaller changing room and all of that. I also thought about showing them the fans after the Aston Villa game six years ago.
“But I decided against it because I think if you can’t motivate yourself for a game as big as this, when you’ve got so much to play for then no matter what I show you, it’s not going to make any difference.”
As Newcastle fan groups prepare to stage a sit-in protest after the final whistle in an attempt to persuade Mike Ashley, the club's unloved owner, to sell up, Carver's thoughts will turn to his own future.
With suggestions Steve McClaren could be leaving Derby County and heading to Tyneside nothing is certain, but the biggest probability is Carver will shortly revert to his former assistant’s role.
He hopes everything will be resolved by Wednesday when he goes on holiday. Depending on tomorrow’s result his passage through Newcastle airport is likely to involve either running a gauntlet of harsh stares and cutting comments or being greeted by supporters as the club’s saviour.
“I hope I’m smiling,” says a manager recently subjected to so much abuse in his home city that his local golf club has become “a place of sanctuary”. Guardian Service