Newcastle United – Finding a sense of perspective
What could be better, 5 Premier League wins on the trot, 6 in total, and we are in 5th place. The southern press would have us believe that Newcastle supporters are fickle, calling for Pardew’s head before his winning streak. Are they right?
It is interesting to look back at the last time we were in 5th place after 12 games. The circumstances were different. Actually, it was November 2010.
At the time, Chris Hughton was in charge. The 12th game was in fact a defeat, at home to Blackburn. The previous 3 included a win away at Arsenal, another London victory against the Hammers and that fantastic 5-1 home win against Sunderland.
Also, included before that point were a 1-0 win at Goodison and 6-0 at home to Villa. Both that season and this started with an opening day defeat against the reigning champions from Manchester.
Hughton had just got us promoted, despite generating a transfer surplus of £24m with talent worth another £20m or so released from their contracts. The squad was reinforced with Tiote and Perch, Ben Arfa coming on loan but being injured early on in the campaign.
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Hughton’s assistant, Colin Calderwood, had gained his own managerial position in Scotland just after the Sunderland game. Hughton sought a new deputy but was left with just himself and goalkeeping coach, Paul Barron. Just a few games later, one of the more dignified managers of the modern game was sacked, for someone to allegedly take us to the next level.
By contrast, Pardew has had Stone and the man who supported Sir Bobby, John Carver, as well as Andy Woodman and his 2nd fitness coach in 2 years. Pardew has the safety of an 8 year contract, and believe it or not has had over £100m invested in the squad, albeit largely funded by the sales of Carroll, Enrique, Debuchy, Ba and Cabaye.
What is most remarkable about the Pardew run is that his 5 league victories have come in 5 games, the same number of victories that had been achieved in the previous 26 matches.
They have been built on a solid defence, which has been made up of central defenders who were with the club before Pardew arrived, albeit that Dummett was in the academy at the time. The same goalkeeper plays behind them. His formation has been a flexible 6-3-1/ 4-2-3-1
That defensive solidity has now produced 4 clean sheets out of 5, 5 out of 6 if you include the League Cup win. 7 goals have been scored, 4 of the wins being by the narrowest of margins.
It is also remarkable that the players to produce the decisive moments are not those that have been the manager’s first choice. Sammy Ameobi has led the way with assists and a goal, Aarons, Ayoze and Abeid completing the A team. Of those, Ameobi was the only one to start a league game last season.
Injury has also taken the other wide player who made an impact out of the equation, Obertan, who has also weighed in with a goal and an assist. In fact, injury could be argued to be the reason that Pardew has experienced success of late. It makes one wonder whether he would have played wide players out wide if he had not been forced to do so and whether he would have played the midfield powerhouse, Sissoko, in his most natural berth.
There will always be debate about the quality of the opposition too. Fixture lists can always provide the opportunity for momentum, whether positive or negative. Compared to last season’s finishing positions, some of our wins seem fantastic. On current form, analysis might show otherwise.
The first of the run of 5 was against Leicester, currently in a relegation slot, the latest against QPR, currently bottom. West Brom, along with the Mackems, have been one of the perennial yoyo clubs of the Premier League.
When Pardew was on the receiving end of defeats during his Europa League campaign it was a huge excuse, yet Spurs and Liverpool played us in the middle of tense European campaigns, Liverpool just before Real Madrid. Spurs’ comeback against Hull make them the only team currently in the top half that we have beaten so far.
Of course, the team’s wins may have bought Pardew time. Hughton may also have thought that the performances against Villa and Sunderland bought him some support among the powers that be at St James’s Park. Redknapp, before hitting the bottom of the table, hinted that there will be get out clauses for Ashley over Pardew, perhaps he should know having allegedly been offered the job.
Opinion is still divided among Newcastle supporters. Judging by the protestations of many in social media, Pardew is indeed the best since Sir Bobby, despite having the same sort of runs that equate to either Dinnis or McGarry at their worst. Critics point to the previous dire record.
There is a middle way which recognises the limitations of Pardew’s career. Some of us were distinctly dubious about what he has learned from his past. Former players, such as Don Hutchinson, writing for the Chronicle, have highlighted his arrogance. Perhaps the key to his potential longevity will be not the last 5 games, nor the previous 25, but what he delivers after being given his extra chance.
The other element of the equation is Ashley. Is he as ambitious for the club as supporters, or is he happier to churn talent for profit, retaining Premier League income and keeping a complicit manager whose track record suggests that he is unable to progress to a higher level than he has already achieved?
The last trophy we won was 1969. One of the albums of the year was On the Threshold of a Dream.
If Pardew has learned from his previous mistakes and Ashley is supportive, we might reflect that title. On the other hand, if Pardew persists in supporting sales of talented players, helping Ashley milk his cash cow, we might be in the situation reflected by the name of the band who produced the album, Moody Blues.
Of course, we would love Pardew to rise above the mediocrity which characterises his career. We would love him to be able to boast more than the Johnstone’s Magnolia Trophy in his career, as long as it is with us. He is close to a personal record as manager, of 6 consecutive league wins. We are about to find out if he can go any better or whether he will revert to type.
The ball is in his court, will he revert back to being ‘Pardew is our king’ of excuses, or will it be a case of ‘Never Comes the Day’ for those of us with aspirations for our club?
He has the momentum with players providing width, with players playing in their correct positions for once. Let us hope he has learned and finally delivers.
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