Before the Reading game pretty much everyone said six points from the next two games is a must, four at the very least. We haven’t even achieved four, never mind six, and to be perfectly honest, even three is looking extremely unlikely. It shows just how far we have fallen, when we were beating Chelsea 2-0 away from home last May and qualifying for Europe, and now in January when we haven’t won away from home all season and are expecting a convincing defeat to Villa. This, just after today’s defeat to Reading who haven’t won away from home all season until today. How has it gone all so horribly wrong this season for Newcastle United?
Rewind back to the summer. We had just finished 5th, and everyone associated with Newcastle United was on a high after a great season and European qualification. Newcastle United were getting lots of praise in the media for the way they played, we enhanced our reputation as a football club and Alan Pardew (or Pardiola as he was nicknamed) had just won the manager of the year award. We had just created the most perfect of all foundations to invest in the squad and really push the team on to the next level. What we should have done is spent some money and purchased players of a higher quality than we currently had. Not many only about two or three. Then we should have purchased again two or three players of a similar ability to that we already had. All of this without giving away our squad players. We could have had a squad that was strong in quality and depth to push on and perhaps challenge the top four. Unsurprisingly the other teams around our position last season, Spurs and Chelsea did this.
If we had done that, injury problems and extra games wouldn’t have had as much of an impact as we would have had quality depth in our squad so we could rotate players. It’s impossible to know but I think it’s highly likely that we would have stayed around the European qualification positions. Instead we decided to sign nowhere near enough players to build on our foundations, and we gave away some of our squad players which left us coming into the season with no change in terms of quality, whilst our competitors for the top five, Spurs and Chelsea, improved in terms of quality, and we were left with a small squad and extra games. Back to the present day , we are in 16th and two points above the drop zone, we’ve not won away all season and we’ve had a string of disappointing performances. The damage started back in the summer when, for whatever reason, we decided not to improve our squad nor build on the foundations we put down. An abysmal decision and it’s not as if I’m looking back at that and saying it in hindsight, I and many others said at the time that it was an abysmal decision.
That decision has meant that injuries have affected us more than they would have if we had a larger squad of decent players, and it has meant the extra games have taken a toll on the players because we don’t have the squad depth and quality to have a proper rotation policy. Not improving the squad in the summer is one of the main reasons for this decline, and a large contributing factor to the other arguments about injuries and extra games affecting our performances. It’s not as if we can fix that decision of not improving and investing in the squad now either as we have lost the appeal we would have had in the summer to players. We also refuse to compete financially with other clubs. The time has gone now, obviously we can still buy players but not of as high a quality as we could have in the summer, as a top player would have to be completely insane to sign for us now.
The other major contributing factor to our decline is Alan Pardew. His squad selections and formations have been baffling. When we had Cabaye and Ben Arfa fit we played a 4-4-2 they don’t perform as well in. Once Ben Arfa got injured we changed to a 4-2-3-1 and played Cisse, and now Shola, on the right. We should have played 4-4-2 against Reading when we had 2 strikers on the pitch, and when Ben Arfa was fit then used the 4-2-3-1 with Cisse, or Ba when we had him, through the middle. I can understand that he might prefer certain formations and want to stick by them, like this 4-2-3-1 he seems obsessed with, but you have to change it when it so obviously isn’t working. At the very least try it with players actually playing in their actual positions.
Worse than the formations and player selections, are the tactics that Pardew has us playing. We play hoofball too much; especially given that our midfield is our strongest area, we should play through them and allow them to do something a bit more creative. What annoys me more than anything though is the game plans. I will use the Reading game as an example since it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. Initially the plan was fine; go out there, dominate and constantly try to score. The keeper was in great form but we eventually got the goal anyway. In the second half Pardew sent the team out to defend the one goal lead. He might as well have walked the players to the Tyne Bridge and instructed them to jump off it one by one. It was absolutely suicidal! If you’re winning 3-0 at half-time I can see why you might set up to try and defend it. When you try and defend a one goal lead with half the match left, more often than not your negative approach is going to cost you your lead. You should play to score a second and then a third. Yes be more wary about the counter attack and don’t over commit players forward, but you certainly don’t set up to invite pressure on yourself and try to park the bus to protect your one goal lead. We always seem to do this when we go a goal up. The negative substitutions highlighted this; if your plan is to set up negatively to protect a goal you deserve to get beat.
What I probably hate most about Pardew are his consistently ridiculous substitutions. Just commenting on the Reading match; Pardew must have known Cabaye wouldn’t last the full 90mins, so there’s no use complaining over that one. What you can complain about is the negative substitution before that; taking Marveaux off when you know Cabaye is going to need substituting soon? You know your most creative player can’t last the full 90mins yet you bring off your second most creative player before that. How negative can you get?! Also everyone knows Shola doesn’t have the legs for 90mins so why not keep Marveaux on, take Shola off for Obertan and then when Cabaye needs to come off, put on Bigirimana/Perch in his place? That way we would have kept some creativity.
The final negative about Pardew I want to highlight is his use of excuses, and come to think of it I actually hate these more than his substitutions. His first excuse was that we had played on Thursday. Fair enough, but as I’ve already highlighted we should have strengthened in the summer so this wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately we didn’t. Also this has only happened before for what six or so league games? It’s not as if you can use the excuse regularly, he should have adapted by now. The next excuse is that we’ve had lots of injuries. Again, fair enough, but the solution to the last problem would also solve this one. Excuse number three; “we were unlucky”. F*** off. If you didn’t set up so negatively to defend narrow lead or draws we wouldn’t concede loads towards the end of the game. Playing poorly for the whole match doesn’t count as us been unlucky either. Finally, the latest excuse is that it’s the fans’ fault we lost. Are you trying to get yourself sacked Alan? How is it the fans’ fault you play a formation that isn’t working, that you play people out of position or that your substitutes are negative. Yes the fans shouldn’t boo the substitutions and generally up until today they haven’t, so how come we’ve lost so many other games this season? I don’t agree with the booing but I certainly understand it, and you can’t say the fans don’t have a right to show discontent.
Basically the first two wouldn’t be issues if we weren’t so incompetent in the summer, and I don’t think that’s anything to do with Pardew. The third excuse is Pardew’s code for I messed up big time and the fourth excuse hints that Pardew has completely lost it.
Where do we go from here? As far as I can see there are two options we can take, both have advantages and disadvantages. Option #1; keep Pardew. Option #2; sack Pardew.
The disadvantages of keeping Pardew are what I’ve just mentioned but the advantages are that this is his squad, he knows them better than anyone and as he showed last year he is capable of getting them to perform. Also I’m not a fan of changing manager’s mid-way through as season as it disrupts the whole squad and has the potential to cause upset amongst the players. With a few new signings and with Ben Arfa, Saylor and Tiote back Pardew could keep us up.
The advantage of sacking Pardew now is that we can bring someone in with enough time to make a difference. Also the transfer market is still open, although rapidly drawing to a close, so he can perhaps bring in the players he wants. When he comes in there is every chance that the initial boost from the appointment of a new manager will cause the players to up their performances. The disadvantages are that it feels wrong abandoning Pardew after all he’s done for us when he still could keep us up. Also who would we end up with, another Joe Kinnear? Who in their right mind would agree to board and take charge of this sinking ship? Also, it’s no guarantee that a new manager will keep us up.
Personally I can see the advantages of both and I won’t be overly upset with either option. I’m extremely angry and disappointed with Pardew, but I’d still prefer to keep him. I know it doesn’t look like it at the minute but I think he will keep us up, whereas I’m not so sure Joe Kinnear, Nigel Adkins, or whoever else would. Anything less than three points from Villa Park though and my opinion may change.