Crystal Palace 5 Newcastle United 1, Saturday 28th November 2015.
Most would surely agree, the darkest point of our season.
While Steve McClaren tore out what remained of his hair, the man in the opposite dugout had a typically smug expression, as James McArthur waltzed through in stoppage time to complete a thoroughly depressing ninety minutes.
At least, that’s how I imagined Alan Pardew looked, I couldn’t really see from that cowshed of an away stand. Having had such a good day up until kick off, I ended it sitting quietly on a ‘dry’ train back up to the Toon pondering a few things.
Firstly, ‘what’s the point’ (In Newcastle United, not life).
Secondly, is relegation now a serious possibility (certainly yes).
My final inner-debate though was rather more agitating. Would I rather have Alan ‘Pards’ Pardew still in the Newcastle hot seat over McClaren?
Since it is now over a year since our former manager left St James’ after being poached by Palace, it seems a good time to reflect whether we are better off or not without him. I do know for quite a few Newcastle fans this is like asking to choose between a rock and a hard place, but bear with me.
To me it’s an interesting question, as I am still struggling to work out just how good/bad we are this season. It may be undeniable that we are not only in a relegation dogfight this season, but even so, the quality of football on display this season is still a vast improvement from the dire, consistent no-shows under John Carver in the first five months of 2015.
I left JC out of this debate, assuming no one would seriously have him even in the city, let alone in the manager’s office. This may seem contradictory considering how we have never been placed that high up the table, but I am in no doubt that the team we have at the midpoint of this season, has more spirit, desire and crucially, quality, than the side that limped over the line in 2014/15.
Is though, the improvement more to do with a greater commitment from Ashley and Co towards player recruitment, rather than the effects of the new manager? People seem to forget that only Manchester City had a net spend higher than us in the summer, and although Thauvin already seems a bad buy, the other three summer arrivals have big futures at the club, at least until Ashley decides to make a profit. They have certainly improved our team from what it was last season.
Pardew never had such a high level of investment in his four years on Barrack Road. The most money he was able to spend in one transfer window was his last, the summer of 2014. Admittedly the team was not improved a great deal but as we know, that was not solely down to him. Graham Carr and Lee Charnley surely, have to take most of the responsibility for the likes of Riverie, Cabella and De Jong joining.
According to Louise Taylor in The Guardian, the only signing that was mainly down to Pardew during this period was Ayoze Perez, who bar Jack Colback was the only one to really make a positive impact in a Newcastle shirt last season. Equally, the poor start made to last season under AP, no win until the eighth game, was clearly an underperformance.
I also understand the hostility towards him from certain sections of the crowd, especially for often being seen as a mouthpiece for Ashley and the board. He definitely did not help this cause when criticising the fans, the occasion of a 2-1 home defeat to Reading in January 2013 particularly standing out.
When looking at his seasons without emotion though, I do think certain points often get way overlooked when discussing his time on Tyneside. Not only was investment in the team often in short supply, but this time of year, January, often derailed our seasons.
In three of his four January transfer windows as Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew had his best player sold (Andy Carroll in 2011, Demba Ba in 2013 and Yohan Cabaye in 2014).
A quite remarkable stat, that makes it a lot less surprising our campaigns often took a nosedive. In his one January as Newcastle manager in which his best player was not sold, 2012, Ashley additionally invested £9m in Papiss Demba Cisse. We went from 8th at the start of the month to finish 5th in the league.
The following season was more of a disaster and buying five new players in January did compensate, to a degree, for the sale of Demba Ba, and we managed to stay up. I read in the Chronicle earlier this week that after these signings ‘This was the moment Pardew no longer looked like the right man to lead the club’.
This though is simply not true as the following season we again managed to get together another great side, even though it was hugely aided by the goals of on loan, Loic Remy. All looked good for another challenge for the top five, certainly the top six, until Mike decided it was time to cash in on Yohan Cabaye. The best player in the side by a mile, it was a move that completely wrecked the 2013/14 campaign.
I am not saying I would snap Palace’s hand off to bring ‘Pardiola’ back to SJP, but it does astonish me slightly that McClaren does not appear to have had the crowd turn against him in a similar fashion. Particularly when you consider he has had more investment in the team than Pardew ever had.
It is difficult to compare the four calendar years of AP, with McClaren’s half a season or so, but I wonder at what point would he endure similar abuse if results do not pick up consistently (I am praying that they will at some point).
To play devil’s advocate for a moment, the straight question is, would Alan Pardew have taken the club further with the type of transfer backing Steve McClaren is now beginning to receive?
I think I know what most Toon fans will say, no.
One final thought though, I would bet ‘Pards’ was pretty irritated when he saw we had spent £12m on Jonjo Shelvey last week, for a number of different reasons. He may be even more bitter if we smash our transfer record on Berahino…
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