Keep Calm And Think Of Pardeurope
So it takes two back to back home defeats and a slower start to the League season than expected, as we adjust to the demands of European football, for some fans to turn against Pardew. If this is the majority view, we don’t deserve the double Manager of the Year and the players who fired us up to last year’s 5th place finish, our best season in ten years. In case you’ve only started supporting the club in the very recent past, welcome to The Newcastle United Rollercoaster, on which there’s as many depressing downs as thrilling ups. Yet the ride is always worth it and we’re only going one direction long-term: up.
Let’s take stock. We’re 12th, mid-table, below where we should be and far below where we’ll finish, yet luckily the season is 38 games long. It lasts till mid-May not mid-November and there’s so much more to come. We’re also top of another league, Group D of The Europa League, the competition which we strove to qualify for and our reward for such a memorable Premier League campaign in 2011/2. A win against Maritimo at St. James’ Park on Thursday night and we’re in the last 32 of the competition.
The FA Cup begins in January so another route to silverware opens up, a competition Alan Pardew guided West Ham to the Final of in 2006 and narrowly lost on penalties. We went out the League Cup at Old Trafford after fielding an under-strength XI which disappointed some fans yet if the injuries, suspensions and disruption that’s already resulted from The Europa League is anything to go by, that was a blessing in disguise.
Credit where it’s Pardew: after the West Ham game, he refused to blame a European hangover for the defeat. Yet it’s undoubtedly a factor as the squad is being strained with two games in a week most weeks.
Last season, we had a week to rest, prepare and do our homework before games as well as having the luxury of our best XI most of the time. We cut usually robust teams like Stoke to shreds, both home and away, a team suffering from such an exhausting Europa campaign that at one point, Pulis gave up and sent his Reserves to Valencia. Don’t be surprised if Pardew does the same away in Bordeaux. We’ll have won the war of qualification by then so losing a dead rubber battle will save the squad for games to come.
Almost overnight, we transformed from plucky underdogs to a real threat ourselves who everyone wants to beat. The top teams are wary of us now and know they have to do something special to beat us. Contrast the relative complacency of the Man U we destroyed 3-0 in January with the ultra-professional display we witnessed in October as they reversed the scoreline. We may have woken a napping giant in Man U and Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t forget the favour.
So we’re up against it this season. Teams know what we are capable of and are extra-vigilant, preparing as if they are playing one of the Top 5 which is exactly right. West Ham are enjoying the kind of New Kids on the Block brashness that was us a couple of seasons ago and Michael Laudrup has added a cutting edge to Swansea.WBA are doing a fine demonstration of us last year, collecting scalps and plaudits alike, without Euro distractions. Yet we beat them and Spurs and took bonus points at Everton & Liverpool.
The Premier League is an ultra-competitive, high-octane professional League up there with the very best in the history of the sport and an unforgiving place. At different stages already this season, we’ve had the Taylors, Tiote, Coloccini, Gutierrez and Cisse out through suspension and injury, often several at a time. These are key, experienced players, real blue chip warriors – Captains, internationals and goalscorers – whom any team would miss desperately. We have, as results show.
Much of the tactical talk is about restoring the 4-3-3 from last season which solves the urgent need to get Ben Arfa wreaking havoc in the final third and, fingers crossed, would return Papiss Cisse to the unbelievable goalscoring form when he first signed. I’ve a feeling Pardew’s dilemma is keeping Demba Ba happy while the January clause remains in his contract. Played on the left since August and he’d almost certainly be away for double the wages and a central role elsewhere. Played through the middle and kept happy here as the main man and he might stay. Last season, while partnered by Best or Shola, his sensational goalscoring start was one of the main reasons we flew so high.
If we’re in one, then the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ also means opportunity. An opportunity for the fans to show our true colours, be patient and get behind the team that we all love and want so desperately to succeed. Safe in the knowledge that everyone involved at the club from Ashley and Lambias in the Directors’ box to Pardew in the dugout, his coaching staff on the training ground and players on the pitch, are doing their utmost to achieve what we want.
There’s a long-term plan in place and games like Saturday have given the likes of Anita, Sammy Ameobi and Ferguson experience at the sharp end of The Premier League. Yet like Santon and Coloccini before them, players take time to adapt to the exacting standards of the top flight so the watchword is patience. There’s nothing better than a home-grown player making it. though experienced recruits in January will give us a necessary boost.
In the pub before Saturday’s game, I asked everybody in our company what the score would be, as I normally do, and put my bets on using the wisdom of crowds. To a man, everyone was confident of a Newcastle win except the newcomer to our group, a Newcastle scout, who said he fancied Swansea because of our missing personnel. It’s easy to criticize from the stands yet you have to trust that those in the club know better. That’s why they are in the positions they are in and they have got us this far so now is not the time to lose faith as the best is yet to come.
Don’t Stop Believin’.
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