With the Ivory Coast holding a commanding lead, Senegal’s hopes of reaching the 2013 African Cup of Nations had all but diminished before scenes of violence and rioting sealed their unsavoury exit. However, news of their disqualification would have been music to the ears of the Toon Army, who may now dream of going one better than their excellent fifth-placed finish last season.
Manager Alan Pardew would have allowed himself a wry smile at the prospect of retaining his frontline duo for the notoriously difficult New Year period. Senegal’s omission should be a blessing disguise for the club’s leading goalscorer Demba Ba, who only managed one goal in 15 appearances upon his return from the competition last year. His confidence crisis was disguised by the arrival of compatriot Papiss Cisse, who would bag 13 goals as the Magpies secured their Europa League spot.
However, if Newcastle are to establish themselves as members of the Premier League elite, they must fashion a playing style that suits both strikers. This season has prompted the ‘demise’ of Papiss Cisse, who is yet to find the net in the league although he has scored twice in other competitions. The 4-4-2 formation is almost extinct at the pinnacle of English football, so it is up to Pardew to create an effective rotation policy or redefine the role of one of his prolific front men.
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The Magpies’ success last term was thanks largely to Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew striving to create a sense of stability at the club. The recent announcement of the unprecedented eight-year deals for Pardew and his head scout Tony Carr have helped lay down the foundations for a prosperous future. Tyneside now emits the perception of security and self-assurance, which should act as an appealing aspect for any potential incoming transfers.
The new season has got off to a stuttering start for Pardew and co, who are perhaps suffering as a result of their European excursions. Their recent 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United was a complete contrast to the score line from last season and highlighted the fragile nature of their defence. The intermittent absence of core trio Tim Krul, Steven Taylor and Fabio Coloccini has exposed a real lack of competent rearguard options.
Recent printouts from the transfer rumour mill suggest Pardew has at least seven potential centre-back targets on his January shopping list. And despite a somewhat sedated summer transfer window, Pardew believes he will continue to receive the full support and backing of those above him.
‘“There have been times when Derek (Llambias) has said, it’s out of the budget or it doesn’t work’. But Mike has said ‘Do it’.
“Don’t think that might not happen again.” (Chronicle Live)
Pardew also insists it’s his job to “tease him [Ashley] in on signings” but he may also have to convince the Newcastle owner to block any unwanted departures from the club, especially with stories of a clause in Demba Ba’s contract refusing to go away.
This weekend marks the highly anticipated derby encounter against neighbours Sunderland, with the aforementioned core trio once again available for selection. The return of Taylor, Coloccini and Krul will be a timely boost for the Magpies who share their opponent’s restricted source of goals. It’s common knowledge that only Steven Fletcher (5) has found the net for Sunderland (in the league) this season but did you know only Ba (6) and Hatem Ben Arfa (2) have done so for Newcastle?
If Newcastle are to break into the top four then they need to continue their penchant for unearthing transfer gems. The likes of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote are fast becoming indispensible members of the squad, although both have failed to reach the same performance levels that they showed last season.
Until they can bolster their ranks, they must reaffirm the recently re-titled St. James’ Park as a fortress while also rediscovering that elusive formula for away victories. They must also be wary of Everton and West Brom, whose performances this season suggest they are more than capable of matching Newcastle’s tag as the ‘surprise package’ in the Premier League.
If Tottenham and Arsenal get caught up in another battle for fourth place then Newcastle will hope to be perfectly placed in order to take advantage. If they do, their odds of 33/1 might be the most appealing long shot in betting history.
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