Watching from the technical area as his Crystal Palace side thumped former employers Newcastle United 5-1 on Saturday afternoon, Alan Pardew must have felt as if all the criticism, negativity and angst surrounding his rollercoaster five years on Tyneside was suddenly evaporating into thin air, hastening its dissolution into Selhurst Park’s vibrant atmosphere with every passing goal.
Pardew has faced his former club before, but the dust was barely settled when they met in February last season, just a month after his departure, to take home a point apiece.
Saturday’s episode was different; the disparity in the score line embodying the cataclysmic contrast in fortunes between the two sides since Pardew swapped the Magpies for the Eagles in January 2015.
There aren’t many things easier than playing a Newcastle United team not led by Pardew right now, but playing bingo at bestbingosites.co.uk might just be one of the few.
From the start of the year, Palace have only moved further towards the realms of Europa League contention, whilst Newcastle’s downward spiral has pushed them only closer to the Premier League’s trap door.
Despite taking over when the Eagles were in 18th place, they finished last season in 10th; the Magpies meanwhile plummeted from that exact position, coincidentally enough, all the way to 15th, claiming just twelve points from 18 games under successor John Carver.
There was a nine-point gap between the two sides at the end of last term and that has further increased this year after just 14 games. The 5-1 win on Saturday sustained Palace’s position on 7th in the table with 22 points, whilst compelling Newcastle to second-bottom with a miserly ten.
[ffc-gal cat=”newcastle-united” no=”5″]
The dominant result and its representation of where both clubs are currently at rewrites the history of Pardew’s controversial spell with Newcastle.
He was painted as a puppet of Mike Ashley, a manager out of his depth and an enemy of the Tyneside cause. The sheer existence of SackPardew.com, a website that helped orchestrate protest demonstrations and handed out anti-Pardew paraphernalia at St. James’ Park, tell all about the 54-year-old’s frosty relationship with the Toon Army.
Few were disappointed to see the back of him and the media weren’t exactly on his side either; many journalists and writers, including myself, constantly queried how long he could evade the axe in the face of poor results and continuous public relations disasters.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing and certainly puts Pardew in a more flattering light. No question, the retired midfielder made mistakes whilst at the Newcastle helm, the most obvious and inexplicable being his ‘headbutt’ on Hull City’s David Meylor, which only exacerbated the image of Newcastle United as a comedy circus with the Premier League’s answer to Alan Partridge its ringmaster.
Secretly, however, Pardew was holding together a club that is now falling apart at the seams. He battled underinvestment, a transfer policy completely taken out of his control and relentless off-field issues to qualify for the Europa League and record an average final standing of 12th from his five seasons at the helm.
He made the same Papiss Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini now causing a weekly stink at St. James’ look like half-decent footballers, went two transfer windows without making a single permanent addition to his first team squad, was forced to work with players who arrived with no Premier League experience whatsoever and lost three talismanic entities, Andy Carroll, Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba, mid-season in the space of four years.
In the context of Newcastle’s current tribulations, Pardew’s relative success on Tyneside borders upon miraculous – something which Steve McClaren’s struggles this season pay specific testament to.
It has become abundantly clear that there is something intrinsically wrong at Newcastle; whether it’s the fan base who have grown understandably fickle under Mike Ashley, the fact the club is always overshadowed by gloomy clouds of negativity or simply the manner of the Magpies’ recruitment, the players seem almost unmanageable, inconsistent by nature and impossible to motivate.
McClaren or Mourinho, I firmly believe any manager would struggle with this group of players. Yet Pardew secured consistent Premier League safety with a crop not too dissimilar, despite a significant section of supporters actively protesting against his regime. He never blamed them or Ashley’s unwillingness to spend. Instead, he stared back at every embarrassing performance with a smiling face and simply got on with the job.
Pardew was the hero Newcastle needed, but not the one they deserved. Now in the safer surroundings of Selhurst Park, the predominant stomping ground of his playing days, and cheered on every week by a passionate and militant crowd, Pardew is unquestionably flourishing.
The results are good and the performances are highly entertaining, speedy wingers Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha often stealing the show, and in the space of a calendar year he has taken the club from relegation-bound to the Premier League’s top seven.
The South London outfit’s top flight status is now seen as so assured for the foreseeable future that American Josh Harris is on the verge of investing £100million into the club’s infrastructure. That seemed impossible when Pardew took the job at the turn of 2015.
It makes you wonder what’s next for Pardew, a manager who became the unfortunate face of everything wrong with Newcastle football club. Roy Hodgson’s role as England manager will be up for review after Euro 2016 and in terms of home-grown replacements, the Palace boss must be somewhere near the top of the list.
The last twelve months have certainly taught me a lot about rushing to judgement – and I’m sure many Newcastle fans are beginning to revise their opinions on Pardew too. Don’t get me wrong, his time on Tyneside needed to come to an end after passing the point of no return. But clearly Pardew is a much more talented manager than most gave him credit for.