Newcastle’s awful form these past few months has seen them slide irrevocably down the league table and exit at the third round of the FA Cup, and with manager Alan Pardew admitting that the club are now in a relegation dogfight, will the pressure start to mount even further on the man in charge? Or to put it more pertinently, can he survive in the role for the foreseeable future?
After being handed a scarcely believable new eight-year deal by Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, it seems even when the club is trying to consolidate, take a long-term view and plan for the future that they leave themselves open to mockery. It’s irrational on almost every level and never before has a manager earned such a deal in the game based on so little success.
It doesn’t explain at all why he was given a new contract when there was seemingly no pressure from Pardew’s side to hand him one, while the length of it, even if you approach it from the viewpoint that it was supposed to scare off potential rivals for his signature and protect the club with a healthy compensatory package doesn’t quite explain why eight years and not say four or five? However, it’s been mooted by many supporters now that the only thing keeping Pardew in his job is the compensation package the club would have to fork out to fire him and when it gets to that point and that’s your only reason for keeping someone around, you know you’re on sticky ground.
Pardew signed his new deal on September 27th and since then the team have recorded just three Premier League victories and five across all competitions, against Bordeaux, Club Brugges, West Brom, Wigan and QPR. During that 22-game run they’ve lost 12 games and drawn five, conceding 40 goals and keeping just four clean sheets. This is a horror run, the sort that ends managerial reigns at clubs no matter what contract they have.
They now sit just two points above the drop zone after 21 games and following the humiliating loss to Brighton away from home, Pardew started to sound like a man trying to dig his way out of a hole: “We need to get our best players back and quickly. We need to sustain ourselves and make sure we’re a Premier League team next season. We want to stay there but we are in real danger and we need to get our best players out on the pitch. We’re not too big to go down and we accept that. We need to make sure we are a Premier League team next season. Our team today is a shadow of the team we can put out.
“Not once this season have I had my best side out. We’re not too big to go down. I think it is important to spend. We lost Cheik and Demba, one to African Nations and one to a transfer. The most important thing for us is our Premier League status now because we’ve put ourselves at risk with all the injuries and the run we’re on. We need to make sure we’re a Premier League side next season. We’re not hiding from that. We need our best players back.”
Ah, injuries, the manager’s go-to defensive position, blame mitigating factors outside of your control for you waning influence on the side. Nevertheless, Pardew may actually have a point this season and aside from Demba Ba, who has now left the club, each and every key member of the side that were so successful in finishing fifth last term has endured a spell on the sidelines – Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Papiss Cisse, Tim Krul, Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa.
The problem with Newcastle’s squad is that there is a very strong first eleven there, but dig a little deeper and the support cast simply isn’t up to scratch, as the Brighton display brought home; Dan Gosling, Romain Amalfitano and Xisco (yes, he’s still there somehow) do little other than eat up valuable wages. This has left youngsters such as Shane Ferguson and Gael Bigirimana to unfairly carry the burden when it should really be up to the more senior players to step up.
The club currently have the second-worst defensive record in the entire league after leaking 11 goals in two games against Manchester United and Arsenal and it seems at times like Fabricio Coloccini, who looks in dire need of a rest, is having to put out fires all across the back four and Mike Williamson, Davide Santon, James Perch and Tim Krul’s form just isn’t a patch on what it was last campaign. The January signing of the impressive Mathieu Debuchy is a step in the right direction and when they have a fully fit side back, they should have enough if confidence isn’t at such a low level by then to stay up, but more investment is required.
It’s easy to blame the manager in certain situations such as this but Pardew’s dreadful long ball tactics really haven’t helped matters and have been more than partly to blame for their horrific form, with the side increasingly looking like it lacks a coherent plan not only to stop the opposition, but a style of their own to go to when the going gets tough. At present, he looks short of ideas to address and arrest the decline.
Changing managers can often give way to the much-needed honeymoon effect, but unless the systemic problems are actually looked at and tackled, as Sunderland surely attest to, form is only temporary, a lack of class is permanent. Sacking Pardew right now isn’t quite the answer, for their problems will ease just as soon as their injury table load does, but it’s clear that he needs to be more proactive and get a hold on where things have gone wrong, because at the moment he looks clueless about what system and style the side needs to pursue with.
With the calendar relenting a tad to more one-game weeks and winnable fixtures against Norwich, Reading and Aston Villa up next, Pardew’s fate could be decided by not only the superficial battles he has to fight in the media, but the substantive ones out on the pitch between now and the end of the month. You have to ask yourself, is Pardew the man to turn things around for the Magpies? When once the response to that was easy to muster, with things going on as they are, it is only going to continue to get murkier by the week.
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