Steve McClaren: Newcastle survival bid will go to the wire
Steve McClaren has admitted Newcastle's fight for Barclays Premier League survival could run to the bitter end of a difficult season.
The Magpies climbed out of the relegation zone as a result of last Saturday's 2-1 win over West Ham, but were dumped back into it by Swansea's victory over Watford two days later.
They will attempt to drag the Hornets back down when they head for Vicarage Road on Saturday, hoping to inflict a fifth successive league defeat on their hosts.
But head coach McClaren is predicting a tense conclusion to Newcastle's campaign whatever happens this weekend.
He said: "It's going to go all the way. You're never out of the mire, even if you're up there on 29 or 30 points, it's still the prospect of another three or four wins and it's difficult.
"The league is tough this year, really, really tough. From the start of the season, the teams who have come up have done well and adapted well to the Premier League. Just the quality from top to bottom - save for the top four who have the bigger squad - the level is very close.
"There is a thin dividing line between winning and losing."
McClaren's men have taken 21 points from their opening 22 games, and that ratio will have to increase significantly if they are to avoid a late scramble.
Forty points has traditionally been regarded as the finishing line, although the total has sometimes been lower and on rare occasions, significantly higher.
Asked if 40 would be enough this time around, McClaren was non-committal.
He said: "Could be. Might not be."
Newcastle remain engaged in their pursuit of top transfer targets Saido Berahino and Andros Townsend - McClaren declined to comment on either - but their hopes will recede as time runs down.
However, they are equally determined to hold on to their big-name players - Cheick Tiote is still hoping to complete his move to Shanghai Shenhua - with speculation suggesting Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez in particular are attracting attention.
Asked if Perez was a player he intended to retain, McClaren said: "Absolutely. We are not losing our best players in this window.
"He has been great. There is a lot more to come. He needs to be more consistent, but he has great potential. It is his second year.
"He scored a great goal last week. He needs to score more and get more assists and be more consistent, but he is not going anywhere."