Newcastle fans can’t be blamed for despairing at the most recent sequence of events over the Christmas period. The defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal were expected but the fact that the Magpies mustered 3 goals in each game yet still managed to lose on both occasions is a source of frustration.
Alan Pardew has mentioned that performances don’t matter if you can’t put points on the board. The eight defeats in the last ten Premier League outings show that things aren’t exactly rosy at St. James’s Park. It is not time to be panicking just yet, but we aren’t far off. There appears to be an air of complacency that Newcastle are too good to go down, and that their personnel wouldn’t let it happen. This isn’t true. If the whole squad was fully fit you may accept this point of contention, but it seems an all too familiar story at the moment with the squad littered with injuries.
The midfield area is particularly threadbare and whilst Bigirimana has shown signs of promise who are we kidding if we suggest he is anywhere near the finished article. The loss of Yohan Cabaye has crushed the midfield this season with his range of passing and influence being the heartbeat of the side. This is why Newcastle fans still adamantly chant ‘don’t sell Cabaye’ every game despite him not even playing at the moment.
The tackling and tenacity of Cheick Tiote remain this season, but he hasn’t shone as much as in previous seasons with his insistence on passing it to Danny Simpson, who continues to deliver mediocre at best crosses, and the Ivorian guilty of holding the ball for those extra few crucial seconds in attack. He will be gone for a month in January as well, due to the African Cup of Nations and that’s a blow they could do without on Tyneside. Vurnon Anita just started to get into his stride in the attacking midfield role before he was injured against Manchester United, but he needs to ensure his presence is felt on a more permanent basis, when he returns. The emergence of Obertan and Marveaux is reason to be cheery, adding some incision to attack but they have too had their injury struggles and not put together a string of games in black and white often enough for the supporters liking.
There definitely appears to be a difference between now and the 2008-2009 relegation season though in that this time the Magpies appear to show some fight, but this is accepted with an air of caution. This fight has scrapped them over the line so far this season, in the matches they have won; they have yet to dazzle their fans. They reluctantly accepted QPR handing them victory on a plate just over a week ago and the lack of fluency in the midfield was fitting of both teams struggling at the bottom.
It is not as if Newcastle have done themselves any favours with their style of play, deciding to pump it up top when under the cosh. The reason why they have achieved some success in front of goal in the last few games is because of their courage to play the ball along the floor. Now they are down in the mire they need to play their way out of trouble, rather than booting it long to Ba or Cisse. The January window is upon us and the addition of two or three bodies would be welcomed, whether that will realistically happen is another matter. There is a lot of worry about Ba leaving; understandably, he has been the source of goals. If he leaves in January another striker would be a necessity. If he were to go it could be a blessing in disguise for Cisse, to assume this would be the case is arrogant. Pardew rolled the dice and risked relegation when he let Andy Carroll without finding a replacement in February 2010. Shefti Kuqi didn’t count as a replacement, even if he was a gimmick for the fans. If he tries similar tactics in January if Ba were to go the 51 year old may as well raise a white flag in the air accepting that relegation is hanging in the balance.
If we are to assume Pardew sees through his claims and reinforces or at the very least doesn’t weaken in January, after admitting undercooking it in the summer, which is a big if, then Newcastle will have enough. There has been positive noises from the Magpies boss but he needs to make sure he keep the squad fresh regardless of what occurs in this next window.
The attacking verve returning to the play is something that needs to stay if they are to succeed at St James’s Park. Ben Arfa, Obertan and Marveaux remain players that can unlock the doors to victory, with either pace or creativity and Newcastle need to utilise the qualities those players possess. The back four also needs to be settled. There is quality in the shape of Coloccini and Williamson as a pairing; a clean sheet to add to this attacking flair of late would put things back on track. Talking their way to points is cheap, and don’t be deluded that Newcastle will be fine soon. They will remain uncertain of safety right until the latter stages of April or maybe even beyond. The Europa League has crucified the squad and whilst you suspect they will be safe, they will need a little more than battling spirit and soon.
Newcastle don’t have the dead wood in their squad with players resting on their laurels which they had when they were relegated in 2009. It is more that the players are tired and shot for confidence at not being able to string results together. The last spell may have hurt fans but if the players can maintain their form of late they will survive. If they take their eye off the ball and start dreaming of chasing the European places after their next win, then they will soon see another thing coming. Ensuring survival has to be sole focus for the rest of the season for Newcastle.