Newcastle United – Walking A Tightrope
What a difference a year makes. Sitting 5th, edging on 4th. How happy we were.
Much has gone wrong since then. Many blame Pardew; the man, the tactics, the lack of motivational skills, the team selection, the trite soundbites about the crowd being the 12th man.
Perhaps this feeling has been lying dormant for a while simply because he is Alan Pardew. When he was first appointed many did not even know he was out of work, having been sacked from Southampton months earlier. While he might not have been on most fans’ shortlist, he was not even in some supporters’ vocabularies, barely being able to place the face to the name.
It was a low-key appointment at best and many were suspicious; Hughton, an honest journeyman, sacked after a reasonable return to the Premiership in favour of a like-minded insider form London. Pardew faced an uphill struggle and he rose to that challenge for 18 months and the team rose with him.
So, under pressure, Pardew performed and was given much credit for his achievement culminating in last year’s LMA award. And while the players were good, the manager was really the magician, casting the spell, pulling the strings, insert your metaphor here.
Nine months later and Pardew teeters as he and the club walk the tightrope between Premier League status and relegation following on from a disastrous combination of results and widely acknowledged underinvestment in the summer.
So Pardew is to blame then, most would conclude.
But what about the eleven that pull on the jersey and take to the pitch? If we believe this is the manager’s fault then presumably they are still excellent players, simply waiting to be ignited by a new manager with a burning desire to succeed. They simply lack the right motivation, the right strategy, the right corner ball.
The truth is the picture if very complicated and to pin this all on Pardew, while satisfying a collective desire for action, is too simplistic.
Newcastle started the game on Sunday with 4 of their most recent signings in the first 11, with Elliot starting only his 7th Premier league game in goal. That’s close to half the team, void of Premier league experience. Substitutes Anita and Gouffran were similarly new this campaign. Perhaps most importantly, it was the defence that was most poor during the game and four of the starting back five are in the inexperienced camp.
In such cases, you would hope that the defensive part of our midfield would step up to help out. Sadly, Tiote has looked an angry shadow of the former Arsenal and Chelsea target that stood like a brick wall last season, Gutierrez has too often been caught running down blind allies and Perch was perhaps our best player on the day – a player many would have considered out of his depth a couple of seasons ago when he attempted to fill in at right back. This is not to demean Perch, he is much improved, but merely to demonstrate a point. It took him a while to get going.
So who does that leave? Cisse, S. Taylor and Cabaye who all had terrible days at the office, the latter suffering a chronic season-long slump in form.
It is unfair to say that simply a lack of experience at this level is the single reason Newcastle find themselves in this position though. Many of these players are internationals. And furthermore, plenty of clubs are promoted (e.g. Swansea) and succeed without years of seasoned Premier League players but the difference is those players know each other and work for each other.
There has been a distinct lack of group ethic in this current crop recently. Players too often do not look to back up their team members in both attack and defence. Too often the only option is to lose the ball or smash it up field to Cisse, even when a game is going well. On Saturday, the space that magically appeared for the Liverpool players between Newcastle’s midfield and defence – and defence and the goalkeeper for the first goal – could have housed a Darras Hall mansion. Men were missing in action and none took responsibility that day, all should take the blame.
So questionable team selection – almost certainly, yes. Players underperforming – probably yes, they’re almost certainly better than they have been this last month, but also, perhaps, not really understanding what it is they have got themselves into yet and unsure how to change things. When the mind goes, the body follows.
Questionable transfer policy – yes. The lesson here is you can’t fill a team with Premiership inexperience and expect them to acclimatise immediately, click as a one beautiful solid unit and be instantly prepared for the toughest league in the world.
Newcastle’s owner may need to review his desire to fill the squad with cheaper players who have never stepped foot west of the English Channel in future if they want to build solid foundations. Good players from other Premiership clubs cost a lot of money and there’s a reason for that; they’re Premier League players.
Gone are the days when Newcastle bought strong, vocal players from other Premier league clubs, who could occasionally rock the boat and disrupt the dressing room and cause headaches for the manager; the Nolans, the Bartons, the Shearers. Sadly, gone are those voices from the football pitch too.
Newcastle need leaders now like never before – on the pitch, in the dugout and in the boardroom. Stand up and be counted, make the bold team selections, back your manager when it counts. Before it’s too late.
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