Quartet face relegation nail-biter
It was once claimed the art of good management was simply keeping the five people who hate you away from the four who have not made up their minds.
Nothing so complicated this weekend for Newcastle's Alan Shearer, his north-east counterparts Gareth Southgate at Middlesbrough and Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia - plus Phil Brown at Hull City.
They enter the torture chamber of the Premier League's final day knowing their destiny may be shaped as much by the fates as by any management techniques they care to apply.
And however much they may wish to complain afterwards - and it is to be hoped they do not - it will be not be decided by Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection when Manchester United play Hull City.
It has simply come to this. Four poor teams fighting for two top-flight places with 90 minutes left to save a season.
Ferguson's presence as the fifth manager in the relegation equation is a red herring - a convenient safety net for a relegated club to fall into as an excuse for failure.
He will not condemn any club to relegation or secure survival for another when he hands in his team-sheet at the KC Stadium on Sunday. Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Hull have had 37 games to avoid having to blame someone else on the final day.
United's second or third string could yet prove too potent for Hull and, having won the title with a game to spare and with plans to be made for a Champions League final, Ferguson has earned the right to look after his own interests.
Shearer, Southgate, Sbragia and Brown will all have their own approaches to arguably the most pressurised day in the Premier League calendar. Sbragia had a day at York races, while Brown packed his Hull squad off to the Lakes last week - then cancelled a planned media day and gave his players time off.
The man arguably under the greatest pressure is Shearer, with his status as an icon of the Geordie nation not likely to be helped by the real possibility of being the man whose hand was on the body as Newcastle lost their Premier League life.
True, he came late after a season of flawed management, but make no mistake he will feel the responsibility and take a portion of the blame if they fail to get the result they need against Aston Villa.
I have seen Shearer's Newcastle at regular intervals since his arrival - and while he will not relish the situation he finds himself in at Villa Park he will not shy away from it.
He takes Tyneside's pain - revelled in by plenty it must be said - personally and will be well aware of the sense of mourning that will envelope the region if elite football is taken away from them on Sunday.
Shearer was aware of the size of the task from the moment he walked out to his dug-out against Chelsea on 4 April. He was questioned for not indulging in public rabble-rousing and fist-pumping in time to the cheers that greeted him, but this was a serious business and it gets no more serious than Sunday.
He inherited a desperately poor team after a campaign that has been dysfunctional even by Newcastle's own spectacular standards.
Shearer is also picking up the tab for poor decision-making from on high at St James' Park. Kevin Keegan was parachuted into a management structure that was, with Dennis Wise's presence, never going to suit him. Joe Kinnear was appointed from what was surely the longest short list in football history before succumbing to health problems.
And then, when decisive action and perhaps the presence of an experienced man in the shape of Terry Venables, was needed, Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood were given the opportunity to allow Newcastle to meander along the Premier League's precipice.
In football terms, it is difficult to see what more Shearer could have done to revive the fortunes of a team that has looked almost beyond redemption from the time he arrived. All the ingredients for relegation were in place when he took over.
Newcastle lack pace, quality, defensive expertise and undermined by Michael Owen's struggle to find form and fitness, they have faltered badly.
Shearer must hope his presence, and fear of what awaits should they fail at Villa, somehow coaxes a performance from Newcastle. And yes - he must play Owen if he is fit.
He has been impressive off the pitch, giving the lie to his supposedly bland public image with brutal honesty under interrogation, only dealing in the harsh realities of Newcastle's plight.
Asked if Newcastle would finally learn their lesson if they survived, he raised an eyebrow in the manner of a man who knows his history only too well and simply said: "Ask me if and when we do survive."
I have seen enough of Shearer in his short tenure to believe he represents their best long-term hope of stability, an almost non-existent commodity at Newcastle, even if they go down on Sunday.
Owner Mike Ashley must make every endeavour to keep him.
Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough may not quite require a miracle combination of results when they play West Ham - but it is not far off.
Middlesbrough are the antidote to the madness of Newcastle. Stability in the shape of chairman Steve Gibson, who gives managers a fair chance and has already indicated he will stick with Southgate even through relegation, is a sharp contrast to Newcastle's revolving door managerial policy.
The club has a thriving youth system that can be used to offset Gibson's understandable pulling in of the purse strings - but a combination of factors has led them to the gates of the Championship.
Afonso Alves has proved a waste of money on a colossal scale at £12m, contributing (or not in his case) to a lack of goals that has proved Middlesbrough's Achilles heel.
And after watching Middlesbrough at Newcastle earlier this month, it was tough to escape the impression that they are, for want of a better phrase, too soft.
While hardly expecting Southgate's players to re-enact scenes from the Charge of the Light Brigade, they were too nice, too lightweight. Pleasing on the eye but painful when it came to results.
And Southgate himself often cut a solitary figure on the touchline, encouraging his players simply with almost polite applause. Could it be that if Gibson sticks with Southgate, he could benefit from a more experienced, hands-on, right-hand man?
He was, like Shearer, a fine ambassador his club and had a sense of perspective on Middlesbrough's fortunes, but this may not cut much ice with supporters if they do make the drop and other clubs circle around home-produced talent such as David Wheater and Stewart Downing.
I saw Sunderland's Ricky Sbragia after the defeat at West Bromwich Albion, and he gave every impression of a man who will always do his best work away from the unforgiving spotlight that inevitably shines on the front man.
And he will surely return to ranks irrespective of Sunderland's status after Sunday. He has a creditable coaching pedigree at Manchester United and Bolton, but laying the law down to his players in public, as he had to after a shambles at The Hawthorns did not appear to sit easily with him.
Sbragia, it should also be stressed, is also having to combat the failed excesses of the latter days of Roy Keane's reign. Too many players not justifying exorbitant price tags, too many players not appearing to care where Sunderland end up.
I would never suggest Kenwyne Jones does not care, but it must have been galling for Sunderland fans to hear him suggesting he could be off if they are relegated.
Jones might have spared himself this awful dilemma had he threatened to break into something akin to a brisk trot when Sunderland could have saved themselves at West Brom.
Phil Brown's descent into the danger zone has been spectacular. And here is a manager who has become a divisive figure since those heady early days when victories at Arsenal and Spurs had the words "European football" being whispered at the KC Stadium.
He has never, at any point, been stripped of what appears to be cast-iron self-confidence while his detractors have taken to delivering jibes about his permatan and his touchline headset.
Of more serious concern is the question of whether Brown fatally holed Hull's season with his half-time berating of his players on the pitch at Manchester City on Boxing Day.
Did the players deserve such public humiliation? After all they had earned an outstanding draw at Anfield a fortnight earlier. It was hardly the culmination of a series of poor displays.
Was it more for Brown's benefit than the players? Was Brown so concerned with putting on a show of authority for Hull's travelling fans that he ignored the potential consequences for morale?
He will fight his corner vehemently, but one league victory since that public show of dissatisfaction suggests it was a serious error of judgement.
Brown still has a chance to keep Hull up on Sunday - and for all the words of his critics, every single Hull fan would surely have settled for that before a ball was kicked this season and congratulated their manager on a job well done.
And on Sunday, those four managers will not care whether their players love them, hate them or even cannot make up their minds about them - survival is everything.