Newcastle United have given the southern press (well the north east press haven’t been helping either) enough dirt to meddle with in the New Year.
Column after column of ‘exclusive’ shortlists of prospective ‘Head Coaches’, with one-a-day profiles of these prospects in order of their daily betting odds, ex-players fuelling speculation about everything ranging from Mike Ashley’s lack of support and ambition, to the club’s future and the next manager’s challenges if someone is to land at St. James’ Park other than Carver for this season.
Amidst all this, we drew a quite winnable game with Burnley for the first game of the year, shamelessly walked out of the FA Cup with 4300 fuming Geordies at the King Power stadium, and now are about to face the champions-elect, who must be relishing their opportunity of a timely revenge, at their own lair.
Amidst all the positives (and some negatives) hailed by football pundits and punters, as well as fellow enthusiasts like me about Pardew’s departure, we seem to have completely forgotten that we have a dreaded second half of the season yet to be played and the house is completely out of order.
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I do not know whether we will get Remi Garde or Hoddle or anybody to manage us for the rest of the season, or we will have Carver manage out till the summer and bring in any ‘big’ name like De Boer.
I do not know whether Sissoko or Cisse or Krul will be sold by the deadline day. Also, I do not know (and I do wish Alan, the loved one, Shearer is right about it) whether Ashley prepped Pardew for an exit as he was selling our club in the summer. What I do know is that there are 18 more games left and the players and the coaches we have NOW in our dressing room have the responsibility to steer the ship to safety.
All doom and gloom, right? Why am I talking about safety, isn’t that being too pessimistic about things? Well I do not enjoy being so negative about my club. But I have to hazard a possibility of an impending fall if we do not get our act right. And for that purpose, I will try to look at what might just turn out to be the positives for the rest of this season.
Return of Key players to give the dressing room a lift
Santon made a sort of return at Leicester last Saturday and it is supposed that he will start the game at Chelsea as well. And so will Krul. Boy, haven’t we missed that player so badly.
De Jong has started training so we can hope he can start by the end of this month, or maybe from February. Ryan Taylor and Aarons may follow suit sometime this month.
So we can have a pretty strong side for the last 10-12 matches to hope for a strong finish.
Add to that Cisse, Tiote (and Abeid from injury) from AFCON, and no head coach, not even Carver, can give us excuses of lacking depth and strength in the squad.
Out-of-favour players getting the nod
Well it has been very clear from the start that Cabella and Riviere were not Pardew’s first choice summer signings. Even fringe players like Bigirimana are now getting to train with the first team post-Pardew. Riviere’s early starts and subsequent injury may have disillusioned some, but take my word, he was never the striker Pardew favored. Had Cisse been fit, we wouldn’t have seen him anywhere near the team sheets even in the early matches.
Cabella may seem like another over-hyped signing for NUFC, but his confidence to play in the world’s toughest and physically most challenging league was not helped by Pardew’s obtuse formations and tactics. And I cannot take that he is worse than Gouffran, or his performance in whatever matches he got to play was worse than what Gouffran or Sammy have done. The second half of the season is where these guys may get their chances. I expect them to take this opportunity with both hands and see much more spirited performances from both the lads.
Getting a Centre-Half and a Proven Striker in January
We know Newcastle have done most of its business in the January window over the last five years or so. Well keeping that hope, if we could nick a proven center-half and a proper holding striker, we can be more sure of a better second-half.
The defence really looks shaky, with Steven Taylor out for the season and Coloccini out of form (I do not even want to talk about Willo), we surely need a center half of some stature and we need him now.
At the front, I felt the recurrent theme for all half-time and full-time talks about our matches by Sky commentators have been about missing the action in the ‘final third’.
Imagine De Jong, Cabella, Sissoko and Ayoze all in the team, it will need only a striker who can hold the ball up for these guys to make the forward runs.
That guy is not Cisse or Riviere. Both feed on balls in the 6 yard box, and those deadly crosses are not coming from our wings anytime soon. It has to be a holding striker, someone like Ings, and we can get the ‘final third’ action finally.
Carver experimenting with tactics, formations and positions
JC certainly seems to throw too many hats in the ring at the moment, but if he does get to manage till the end of the season, it will be interesting to see if he tries to experiment with the existing Pardewistic state of affairs at the training ground.
Take the dead-ball situations for instance. We do manage a lot of corners nowadays, as if the Gods like to raise our expectations before repeated disappointment.
So horrendous have been the corners and the free-kicks in Pardew’s times. JC should get two players, of either foot, train and train extensively to take the corners and the free kicks in all situations.
Also, do off with the hoofball via Williamson, do something different, something faster, something innovative. Maybe tweak formations to 4-1-4-1, or 4-2-3-1, or maybe 5-1-2-1-1, something to give more attacking options to our play.
Maybe ask Cabella, Janmaat, Gouffran and Santon to cross more balls, ask more bodies to crowd the box than usual. Be a little risky, be a little more creative. Not throw the towel in at half-time on 1-0 leads, or even when trailing by 0-1. I expect him to come out of Pardew’s shadow (and shoddy tactics) soon enough.
Well we Toon fans have really had our expectations lowered since Sir Bobby’s days, barring that 5th place season when we dared dream again, only to be quashed the next term.
Who knows whether the above will happen or not, but I can hope for positives.
None of the above is unthinkable or improbable, and we can hope it happens for the 52,000 passionate fans for whom there is an entire second half still to go, right?
Happy New Year to all from Bangalore.
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