Newcastle United – Throwing caution to the wind…
Just before the last international break, Newcastle United left Swansea’s Liberty Stadium with a precious point following another life-saving Papiss Cissé double and we were left to wonder whether Alan Pardew’s time was finally up.
Not many would have backed Pardew to even be in the home dugout by the time Leicester City were due at St James’ Park, let alone to guide his side to a first win of the season by overturning Nigel Pearson’s plucky newcomers.
Yet that’s exactly what happened and that proved the catalyst for an impressive upsurge in Newcastle’s fortunes and they have now won four on the bounce and head to West Brom this Sunday in fine fettle as the next international break looms on the horizon.
So, Newcastle’s remarkable mini revival has brought the feel-good factor back to Tyneside but just how has Alan Pardew turned the tide?
Taking advantage of opponents’ frailties
With Nigel Pearson’s newly-promoted Leicester City having recently demolished a demoralised Man Utd side a few short weeks before, many Newcastle fans feared another upset at St James’ Park. In reality, Leicester’s impressive early season form had fizzled out somewhat after that outstanding victory over Louis van Gaal’s side and buoyed by the home crowd, who backed the team brilliantly despite their misgivings about Alan Pardew, Newcastle coughed and spluttered their way to a nervous first win of the season thanks to Gabriel Obertan’s decisive strike.
(To feature like Kevin, send in your articles for our website to [email protected])
A repeat of last season’s victory at White Hart Lane seemed unlikely as Tottenham warmed up for the Sunday lunchtime clash with a routine Europa League win against Asteras Tripolis. However, feeling that they would again win at a canter, Spurs took their foot off the gas after a dominant first half performance that saw them huff and puff but fail to add to their one goal lead. Their arrogance and wastefulness ultimately allowed a spirited and well-organised Newcastle side back into a game that they should have sewn up by the interval.
Similarly, Man City may well have lost the game the moment they saw Newcastle’s team sheet by underestimating the level of performance those eleven players were capable of. From the moment Rolando Aarons fired the Magpies into an early lead, Newcastle were cool, calm and confident and looked on course for the win.The strength of the starting XI that Manuel Pellegrini fielded in the Capital One Cup tie means that it is far too simplistic to say that City’s minds were on the upcoming Manchester derby but it certainly didn’t harm Newcastle’s prospects. Alan Pardew relied heavily on his reserve players and can’t have been expecting such a mature and impressive performance from a side made up of a number of youth team hopefuls and the returning Ryan Taylor – he even admitted afterwards that he was saving some of his first teamers for the visit of Liverpool at the weekend.
Which brings us neatly on to Brendan Rodgers’ stuttering side for whom the demoralising loss of Luís Suarez has been exacerbated by Daniel Sturridge’s injury, the failure to fortify their leaky defence and senselessly attempting to shoehorn Mario Balotelli into a system that simply doesn’t suit him. With Liverpool devoid of form and confidence the stars seemed to align in Newcastle’s favour and Rodgers’ men ultimately went down without much of a fight.
A jaundiced eye might look back and say that Newcastle were lucky to meet each of their last four opponents at opportune times but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Having failed to do just that when faced with seemingly weaker opposition numerous times this year, credit must go to Alan Pardew and Newcastle for showing a newfound ruthlessness and taking full advantage of their opponents’ frailties in these last four games.
As Alan Pardew headed down the tunnel at the Britannia Stadium following the 1-0 defeat to Stoke on a damp and dreary Monday night at the end of September, he cut a dejected figure. Clapping the travelling fans who had long since stopped believing in him, he may well have been wondering whether he had just taken chargeof Newcastle for the last time.
The match report on nufc.com commented: “the levels of support, encouragement or abuse are immaterial – the old adage about the crowd being the 12th man assumes that there are 11 on the field already. That’s patently not the case. This is an average team being organised badly and playing terribly. Something has to give.”
In the weeks that followed, something has given. Rather than being handed his P45, Alan Pardew has rediscovered his lust for life. He has thrown caution to the wind in each of our games since then and has been rewarded handsomely.
Being jettisoned following that Stoke defeat would have seen Pardew go out with a whimper and he seems to have decided that if he is to go down, he’ll go down fighting and he has reflected that in his team selections and substitutions.The pointless and ineffective like-for-like substitutions have been abandoned in favour of a more positive approach – and what’s more, that positivity is yielding results. Sammy Ameobi, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Pérez have each come off the bench to score crucial goals in the last three matches, while the introduction of Rémy Cabella proved as crucial in sealing the win at Spurs as Ayoze’s cameo against Leicester had been.
Ask any Newcastle fan when Alan Pardew got his side playing their most exciting and attractive attacking football and they will all tell you spring 2012. A 3-1 win away at West Brom was a particular high point as Pardew deployed his troops in a 4-3-3 formation with Hatem Ben Arfa shining in an exciting front three alongside Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé.
Unfortunately, Pardew lost faith in the 4-3-3 somewhere along the way and has been reluctant to return to it but there have been encouraging signs in the last few weeks, that he may well ditch the ineffective 4-2-3-1 that he loves so dearly and give it another shot.
The new look 4-3-3 has seen Moussa Sissoko move in-field from the right wing and he has put in a series of impressive all-action performances when deployed in the centre recently, while the pace and directness offered by Ayoze Pérez, Rémy Cabella, Sammy Ameobi, Gabriel Obertan and Rolando Aarons have been a joy to behold.
What’s more, Pardew has finally shown a willingness to drop out of sorts first teamers such as Yoan Gouffran and Vurnon Anita, thus creating a genuine competition for places by handing starts to some of the hungry, in-form players from the youth team like the 18 year old Aarons and 17 year old local lad Adam Armstrong. Similarly, fringe players like forgotten Frenchmen Gabriel Obertan and Mehdi Abeid have also been brought back in from the cold and both have made telling contributions in recent weeks, deservedly keeping their places in the side having put in strong performances.
Channelling his self-belief in the right way
The anti-Pardew website www.sackpardew.com shares a brilliantly revealing anecdote about Alan Pardew’s time at West Ham, courtesy of the club’s photographer Steve Bacon. It details a Friday evening mealtime at a hotel in the North East prior to an away game at Sunderland during Pardew’s first season in charge of the Hammers.
Bacon tells of how he witnessed Pardew swap his dinner with that of another member of staff because he decided it looked nicer than what he had ordered: “Our meals eventually arrived and Pards looked at Tony and said, ‘Yeah, I was right, yours definitely looks much better than mine; I’m having that.’ And he went to swap the plates over. ‘You can’t do that!’ I said. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘You can’t just take somebody else’s dinner,’ I said in disbelief. And he replied, without any hint of a joke, ‘When you’re the King, you can do anything’.”
Granted, more than ten years have now passed since the above incident took place and while extensive media training during his time out of the game helped Pardew curb his arrogance and flashiness somewhat, stories like the one above are hard to ignore.
However, irrespective of any alleged character flaws, what are impossible to ignore in the Alan Pardew story are the facts.Whatever the reasons and the mitigating circumstances, the statistics don’t lie and Newcastle had a horrendous record prior to their recent upsurge, with Pardew’s side claiming just 19 points from 25 league games in 2014 with a goal difference of -28.
Yes, Mike Ashley’s running of the club must sometimes make Pardew feel like he’s boxing with one hand tied behind his back but there was simply no excuse for the incompetent, cowardly and clueless displays that his team put in since the sale of Yohan Cabaye last January.
Nevertheless, in the face of the growing dissent amongst the Toon Army, Pardew frequently made it clear that he would not walk away from a job that he ‘loves’. Many Newcastle fans took umbrage with his refusal to face the truth and admit his shortcomings in a dignified manner, such as Ruud Gullit, for example, did when he had the good grace to step down when he realised that the job was too big for him back in 1999. Despite the poor results and his catastrophic falling out with Alan Shearer, having the decency and humility to jump before he was pushed didn’t go unnoticed by the St James’ Park faithful and it won the Dutchman brownie points on Tyneside.
However, Pardew’s steadfast refusal to resign, together with Mike Ashley’s curious desire to stand by his man, have meant that there has been no managerial upheaval at St James’ Park thus far, while time will tell whether Ashley’s reluctance to pull the trigger was admirably prudent or foolishly negligent.
We may never know just how close Ashley came to sacking Pardew but for a long time it seemed inevitable and that uncomfortable truth, coupled with vociferous calls for his head from tens of thousands of fans, seems to finally have shaken Newcastle’s under fire manager into action. Pardew and his staff have clearly been putting in the hard hours and they have reaped the rewards as Newcastle’s defence has looked a lot more compact and confident in recent weeks, while their attacking play has been swift, incisive and, best of all, effective.
Pardew sought to reassure the fans that, “I do know what I’m doing,” following the magnificent 2-0 win at Man City and he has weathered the storm admirably following a tumultuous couple of months.
However, it will take a lot more than four straight wins to repair the damage caused in the last 10 months. It’s up to Pardew now to press on from here and show that it’s a lesser man, and not a wiser one, who would have jumped ship when the tidal wave of criticism threatened to sink him.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]