In the balmy days of late July, Alan Pardew felt a corner had been turned at Newcastle United.
After a truly abysmal six months, Pardew was confident a fine season lay ahead as he reflected on the club’s decisive business in the transfer market.
Ayoze Perez, Jack Colback, Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella, Emmanuel Riviere and Daryl Janmaat had all been captured early in the summer, and the mood on Tyneside had lifted considerably.
Pardew felt assured enough to say: “We have pitched in and signed players that we think give us a chance to push for the Champions League.” Let nobody tell you it is the fans who have unrealistic expectations at Newcastle United.
The largely positive pre-season and transfer window (which was ruined in the closing weeks by the failure to bring in another central defender and striker) bought Pardew some time, but things are now as ugly as they have ever been at St James’s Park for the former West Ham boss.
The tension which came to the fore at the close of last season kept bubbling under the surface, and Pardew has found himself in the eye of the storm for the last month or so again.
Fightbacks against Hull City and Swansea City to salvage draws have shown that there is fight in the Newcastle side, but the limitations of the team have been exposed in the first seven Premier League games of the season.
United have just four points on the board ahead of Saturday’s visit of Leicester City, and Pardew knows things cannot carry on like this for much longer.
The club’s summer signings are taking longer than anticipated to adapt, and although patience is needed with each of them, it does not appear as though the likes of Cabella and Riviere are about to spark into life soon.
Pardew is in need of some inspiration, and when he looks at his squad, there are not too many players he will feel confident in calling upon.
Papiss Cisse’s welcome return to form has been huge for Newcastle, and they will need him to continue to fire if they are to climb away from relegation trouble.
For Pardew, though, it must be hard for him to look past the short-term.
It still seems unlikely the axe will fall on him after the Leicester game. Although Mike Ashley keeps his cards close to his chest and any announcement on Pardew’s departure would probably come out of the blue, the feeling is his finger is not close to the trigger – yet.
However, it may not be long before the lingering prospect of relegation becomes too great for Ashley to ignore.
The Leicester game – as difficult as it is sure to be against the impressive Premier League new boys – is Newcastle’s last realistic hope of three points until well into November.
The following fixtures are at Tottenham and at home to Liverpool, while there is a League Cup trip to Manchester City sandwiched in between.
The Spurs and Liverpool games are certainly not unwinnable – indeed, Newcastle earned four points from the same fixtures last season.
However, they are not matches Pardew will want to rely on for points, and after those fixtures will come a difficult trip to West Brom.
When you consider that December includes games against Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and, of course, Sunderland, the importance of the Leicester match becomes ever clearer.
Without wanting to sound like a doom monger, there is a very real prospect Newcastle could be cut adrift going into 2015.
So who can Pardew turn to in order to rescue not only his job, but also the club he is employed by?
Two unlikely figures have come back into contention again in recent weeks, and if you had told Pardew back in July that he may come to rely on them to keep him in a job, he would have probably laughed in your face.
In pre-season, the feeling was that Newcastle would be happy to sell Gabriel Obertan and Sammy Ameobi at knock-down prices, or even loan them out.
Both have been hugely frustrating figures over recent years, for differing reasons.
However, Pardew has now looked around at his options in the light of underwhelming performances from his first choices, and turned to two players who looked like they were coming to the end of their Newcastle careers.
Both have shown signs of improvement, and could be key for United on Saturday.
Obertan has always had the tools to make it as a Premier League winger: his pace alone is enough to frighten most full-backs.
However, his infuriating lack of end product and inability to make the correct decisions in the final third had made him a figure of derision.
It says a lot that he is now back in favour, but with precious few alternatives, Pardew was right to go back to him.
Obertan set up Cisse’s first goal at Swansea last time out on a rare start, and probably deserves to keep his place against Leicester.
Ameobi, meanwhile, provided the assist for Cisse’s second after coming on as a substitute, and perhaps he is now slowly developing into the player he once threatened to be.
It’s time for him to find some consistency, and again it would be hard to place full faith in him just yet.
He should start against Leicester, though. Yoan Gouffran’s desperately disappointing performances on the left should make him a certainty to be dropped.
Newcastle have struggled on both flanks this season, with Cabella and Moussa Sissoko also failing to convince yet on the right.
If I was to guess Pardew’s line-up against Leicester, it’s likely Ameobi will come in for Gouffran on the left, with Cabella restored on the right and Obertan returned to the bench.
However, there is a real prospect that Obertan and Ameobi could both start, which is something which would have been unthinkable just three short months ago.
They are out-and-out wingers, though, which seems to suit this Newcastle side at the moment as they try to become a more potent outfit.
When the likes of Cabella do (hopefully) get up to speed, then the reliance on players like Obertan and Ameobi will be greatly reduced, but for now, they are needed.
“Newcastle need Obertan and Ameobi” is not a sentence any of us expected to say at the start of the season. Hopes were high, but much of them have now been extinguished.
The forgotten men have come to the fore again, and you can include Cisse in that group as well after his sudden return to form.
This is no longer just about Pardew and his future: it’s about Newcastle and their future in the Premier League.
The situation – if not already – is likely to become extremely serious in the coming weeks, and the Leicester game is as close to a must-win as you are likely to get at this stage in a season.
Newcastle may just need their forgotten men to come to the rescue.
Gabriel and Sammy, it’s time to take your big chance. You won’t get another one.