One Difficult Question Addressed By Newcastle United
A solid if uninspiring performance in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal confirmed a lowly 16th place finish and finally drew to a close a bitterly disappointing campaign.
Although last season’s success was never likely to be matched, even the most pessimistic fan in August would have been unlikely to have predicted that the team would have become embroiled in a relegation scrap.
Newcastle began the season in a stuttering fashion and never generated a sense of momentum at any stage. The recent horror shows against Sunderland and Liverpool, the home defeats to Reading, Swansea and West Ham and only two away successes all season long characterise a campaign which witnessed nineteen losses, a total only surpassed by the relegated clubs. The achievement in the Europa League stands out as the only real success, yet even this cannot mask the scale of the domestic failings.
The demands of Europe and an unprecedented spate of injuries have been commonly cited as the reasons behind this slump. The failure to significantly bolster the squad in the summer has been recognised by both Llambias and Pardew as a mistake, with the January acquisitions coming far too late to salvage any credibility domestically.
Even in the face of these excuses, there can be no doubt that the club have massively underachieved.
For all the plaudits he received last season, Pardew must accept some of the criticism directed at him this term. Poor tactics, baffling player selections, substandard set-pieces and an uncertainty over formation have frequently undermined the team.
The players themselves must also be held accountable. For a variety of reasons, instrumental figures such as Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Cisse and Tiote have failed to hit the heights reached in the previous season.
In the end, relief at securing Premier League survival is about all that the Toon Army can take away from this campaign.
Like many other clubs, the summer ahead looks set to be a critical one for Newcastle. The actions and ambition shown here will likely determine Newcastle’s prospects for at least the next few years.
Already it seems one difficult question has been addressed. Rightly or wrongly, Pardew appears to have Ashley’s backing to continue in his role for the next season. Continuity is a rare yet priceless asset in football, but there is no doubt that the pressure will be on for the manager to deliver next season.
The overhaul of the squad which began in January needs to continue for the club to achieve the minimum expectation of a position in the top half. The transfer blueprint will likely be maintained, meaning that Graham Carr will be relied upon to unearth further quality at affordable prices. Pardew himself has admitted the need for at least a couple of signings.
With a strong nucleus in place, the transfer window needs to see Newcastle resisting offers for any of their star men. Aside from Coloccini, who seems likely to depart for personal reasons, Pardew needs to retain the services of individuals like Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Cisse, who provide a strong spine with which to work with. Lessons need to be learnt from the sale of Demba Ba.
The way that the club addresses these issues will determine what Newcastle can expect in the next few years.
The mistakes that have dogged the present campaign must not be repeated. The foundations of a successful side are already in place.
If ambition is not shown now, the triumph of the previous season will become a distant memory. It looks set to be a critical summer.
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