This month sees the second anniversary of Alan Pardew’s appointment as Newcastle manager but he’ll be lucky to see out even another season of his new 8 year deal unless performances and results improve dramatically.
The defeat at the Britannia stadium was our fourth on the bounce and it meant that a series of winnable games against so-called ‘lesser’ sides have yielded absolutely no points and that’s just not good enough. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances: the strain of the Europa League, injuries to key players and frequent suspensions have all taken their toll but the lack of investment in the summertime now looks like it has ended our season before it ever even began. Far from building on last season’s success(or even standing still), the team has gone into free fall this autumn and they are bereft of confidence, devoid of ideas and lacking fight – all of which is in stark contrast to last season. Jonas Gutierrez has mentioned that Newcastle are now a marked side and that opposition teams have figured out how to stifle their threat. That clearly is the case but, worse than that, Newcastle have shot themselves in the foot by blindly hoping that last season’s good form would continue on into this year. ‘Plan A’ worked a treat in the second half of last season when Cisse and Ben Arfa were in sparkling form and shot us up the table but there were some comprehensive defeats – such as the 5-2 reverse at Fulham and the 4-0 spanking by Wigan - that Pardew and the players clearly failed to learn anything from.
The strain of European competition coupled with the fact that Newcastle are overly-reliant on Ben Arfa producing a rabbit from a hat meant that investment needed to be forthcoming in the summer but, sadly, funds were denied. Not only did the squad need padding out but investment in what Derek Llambias has termed ‘purple’ players could have cemented the club’s place in the top 6 and helped take us to the next level but a long list of supposed targets yielded only one signing and to describe his start as patchy is being somewhat generous. Now, however, not only is Plan A not working but Pardew doesn’t have enough bodies to change things up, so some players are still basking in the glory of last season’s achievements and not pulling their weight – safe in the knowledge that their starting berths are all but guaranteed.
Our early season draws were frustrating but understandable given the strain of our Europa League participation but we imagined that it would be a solid platform to build upon. We weren’t picking up wins but we were still robust and hard to beat but that steeliness has evaporated since the draw at Anfield and defeat now seems inevitable as soon as we concede a goal. Indeed, quite amazingly, Newcastle have never overturned a deficit to claim all three points during Pardew’s reign - the last time they did so was in October 2010 in a 2-1 win at Upton Park in a game that was overshadowed by media reports of Chris Hughton’s impending departure. The team has a losing mind-set at the moment and it is up to Pardew and his staff to shake the players out of this malaise.
Similarly, our set pieces are regularly a frustrating non-event. Long gone are the days when a free-kick or a corner launched in the general direction of Andy Carroll would cause mayhem in the opposition box see the ball ending up in the back of the net and our boys wheeling away in celebration. Steven Taylor used to be good for the odd headed goal but that has dried up of late, Williamson hasn’t managed a league goal for us yet and the likes of Gutierrez, Cisse, Anita, Simpson and Co simply don’t have the physical stature to be an aerial threat (although that’s assuming that the ball will even get beyond the first man).
Even more curiously, Newcastle top the statistical charts for long balls played despite the widely-held belief that Carroll’s departure and the arrival of Cabaye and other more technical players has resulted in a new, more expansive passing style. These long ball tactics don’t particularly suit Demba Ba and certainly negate Papiss Cisse’s threat, while the lack of an attacking central midfielder in the Nolan mould means that any aerial duals that the frontmen do win are not capitalised upon and rarely result in goals.
Ironically, Pardew is in danger of becoming a victim of his own success but he needs to show that he is not just a one-season wonder – he needs to build on last season’s success and be inspired by it, rather than seeing it as a millstone around his neck. Newcastle need to evolve and reconfigure the team’s playing style; changes need to be made, underperforming players need to be dropped and the good of the team must come before any one individual. Pardew has a lot of credit in the bank with Newcastle’s fans and defeats will be forgiven if it’s all part of a greater plan and we can see progress being made. A slow and sad decline will not be tolerated, however, and Pardew must rally his troops and ensure that performances improve quickly even if results do not. While we all dream of glory, at times failure seems inevitable and so, if we must fail, at least let us fail gloriously – it’s better to burn out than to fade away…