Many thanks to “ToonBano” from the Toon blog www.toonbano.com for his second guest blog here – wt.
Today is the two year anniversary of Alan Pardew’s very first game as NUFC manager, when we defeated Liverpool 3-1 thanks to goals from Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Andy Carroll. Just looking at the goal scorers that evening and the impressive overall performance, compared to who we have in our team now after another defeat at the hands of Fulham Monday Night, it’s safe to say things have changed a lot over that period of time.
Most people were confused and concerned as to why Alan Pardew was even in the dugout that night two years ago as Chris Hughton was doing a sterling job in our first season back in the Premier League after the ultimate humiliation of relegation. Which of course was thanks to him for rescuing this club from certain doom by getting us promoted at the first time of asking, even though he had no previous managerial experience at that point of his life. Most fans thought he was unfairly sacked and I was one of them.
It’s two years later and NUFC sit four points off the relegation zone, with only one win in seven league games and with Man City, Man United and Arsenal to come in three of our next four games. Come the end of these fixtures it will most likely be a case that Newcastle United football club will be in another relegation battle which nobody could be in any doubt over. Not even the sheep that like to bury their heads in the sand when things don’t go to plan could possibly ignore that or try desperately to put a positive spin on the situation.
In between the first season back in the Premier League and the one we are currently drowning in was a season of resounding success, specifically in the league as the cup competitions were a non-event. We finished 5th and managed to qualify for Europe for the first time since 2007. It was an incredible achievement considering the overturn of key players for fresh new ones. All the goal scorers from Pardew’s very first game had all moved on to other clubs and had been replaced at a fraction of the cost. The football club as a whole had seemed to have moved on a step from a stable Premier League team, to a club that would consistently compete for the European qualification spots in and around the Top 6.
However as we speak we find ourselves in 14th position looking over our shoulders at the relegation zone, with an incredibly tough fixture list to come and with hardly a decent performance to shout about all season long. It would seem as the club made a step forward last season, we have took two steps back this season. It can’t be ignored I am afraid. In our first season we were never in any real danger of a relegation scrap as Carroll, Nolan, Barton and co fought for every point on the board. A mid table finish was the reward. This season we would give anything to finish in the exact same position as the thought of relegation is a terrifying one. A mid-table also ran club seems like a nice place to be right now.
Whenever somebody like myself criticises Pardew the main ‘counter attack’ his supporters use is ‘well we finished 5th last season’. Yes, this is true. NUFC finished 5th last season under Alan Pardew’s leadership and received the manager of the year award for his achievement. No one is denying the good work overall AP did last year. However, even last year myself and others found ourselves frustrated at times. Which seems crazy now given how awful this season is but as great as last year was, we didn’t actually have that many performances you could genuinely say were impressive. Looking back you could count them using both hands and not be in danger of running out of fingers.
The stand out performances from last year were as follows: Stoke (a) 3-1, Man U 3-0, West Brom (a) 3-1, Liverpool 2-0, Stoke 3-0. We also had some very proud results away at Sunderland, Chelsea and Man Utd to look back on without actually playing outstandingly well. You may have one or two of your own favourite games to add to this list but no more. So on a very generous day you could say we had ten impressive performances to our name as a football club in our overall impressive season last year. That isn’t a lot when you consider we play 38 league games and have a few cup games thrown on top. That’s a ratio of around one in four.
Plus to every impressive performance comes a horror show. Last season wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Some of us like to forget when our club gets absolutely hammered or puts in a shameful performance never to be spoken of ever again. But in the interest of fairness and harsh reality last season also included the following: Norwich (a) 2-4, Fulham (a) 2-5, Spurs (a) 0-5, Wigan 0-4, Brighton (a) FA Cup 0-1. So for the five stand out impressive performances I picked out in the previous paragraph you find five car crash performances to counter balance it. The above games weren’t just defeats, they were indefensible nightmares.
In the season prior to last year we had our fair share of ups and downs as well after Pardew took over from Hughton. For every West Ham 5-0 we had a Stoke (a) 0-4, for every Wolves 4-1 we had a Stevenage (a) FA Cup 1-3, for the second half of scoring four uninterrupted goals vs Arsenal we had a first half of conceding four interrupted goals in the epic 4-4. In fact looking back at Pardew’s record after taking over from Hughton at the end of that season you will see that amazingly we only won 3 out of the final 17 league games and were dumped out of the FA Cup by Stevenage. That is abysmal to say the least.
This season has been dire with nothing really to shout apart from qualifying from our not very difficult Europa League group and even that died a slow death in the end. We gained 7 points from our first 3 games then fell over into the last 32 with 2 points from the final 3 games. Looking at the Europa League we failed to beat Maritimo home or away even though our under 21 side would probably beat them given the chance. We went 2-0 down away in Bruges and were lucky to come away with a result and even in the home game they had to miss an open goal to help us get a 1-0 victory. The Bordeaux fixtures were chalk and cheese. For the impressive 3-0 home win, we had a gutless 0-2 defeat in the return game.
The league season has been dreadful overall with only the Wigan 3-0 victory to look upon with any pride. We did not deserve to beat Spurs in the first game of the season even though it’s always nice to get one over on them. How we won the West Brom game is anyone’s guess. Having to thank Papiss Cisse’s backside pretty much sums that one up. The Norwich victory was unspectacular to say the least. It was the kind of victory last season was mainly built on. Keep a clean sheet and stumble our way to a win. I complained at these type of performances last season versus inferior opposition as they aren’t the type of victories you can hang your hat on. This season is proving my point.
We built our season last year on a) being solid in defence and hopefully keeping a clean sheet, b) individual brilliance to score goals and c) that little bit of luck when we need it. This season we are failing at the very first hurdle of this 3 pronged strategy making us up against it in almost every game. That is the most simplest way of working out how our season has gone tits up. We concede soft, basic, avoidable goals and only have two clean sheets this season in 16 games. The individual brilliance is still there at times, but instead of it winning us games it is saving us from losing games, or in some cases being completely in vain all together as we still go on to lose. Just look at some our positive results this season:
Spurs’s victory was down to two pieces of individual brilliance from Ba and Ben Arfa. The Villa draw was gained because of Ben Arfa scoring goal of the month, we would have lost that otherwise. Everton draw was down to Demba trying his luck with a left foot strike outside the area that crept in the net, he then rescued a point from a direct flick on from Shola. We could only manage a draw at Reading because of Demba Ba’s unbelievable over the shoulder volley. Cabaye scored a worldy at Anfield to help us get a point. Plus the forever never ending saves of Tim Krul which has won us more points then anything else this season. Without these individual pieces of magic which have nothing to do with how the team actually played, we would definitely be in the bottom three already.
We can’t really complain at a lack of luck either. Papiss Cisse gained two extra points against West Brom with his backside. Everton had two perfectly good goals not awarded as we stole a point from them. Demba Ba’s handball sneaking a point from Reading. The referee awarding a penalty in the Wigan game which could have easily have not been given and Wigan would not have gone down to ten men. Even Ben Arfa’s wonder strike in our latest defeat at Fulham took a deflection as it found a way past Schwarzer. However, we have also had our fair share of bad luck at times with the mackems taking two points of us via Demba Ba’s face but mainly our back luck has come through injuries.
Until we stop conceding these soft goals we are going to struggle to turn this season around. What’s the point in Ben Arfa smashing one in from 25 yards if we go and concede from a basic free kick 10 mins later like at Fulham Monday night? When Alan Pardew first came to NUFC many fans said the one thing he brought was defensive solidity. Last season was proof of that (ignoring the odd hammering) as we had the joint highest clean sheet record in the league with 12. He needs to get back to basics and get the team hard to beat as it is far too easy to score against us at the moment. We should have seen out the game at Stoke and arguably at Fulham. Instead we lost them both by conceding soft, pathetic goals. We weren’t doing that last season.
It’s in my opinion that looking back over the two years that Alan Pardew has been the manager at our football club we took a step forward with him but then two steps back. The league position, performances and results of the team since he arrived and where we are now show it. When he joined we were a solid mid table Premier League team. Last season we took that step forward into the top 6. This season we have dropped massively back into a relegation scrap as the top 6 is nothing but a distant memory. His philosophy of try and take the lead and hold onto to what we have is a dangerous one. I have never agreed with. The fact he has never managed to turn around a losing position to a winning one in his two year tenure also speaks volumes of his negativity.
His inability to sort out our set pieces, or to even work out what his best team is at this stage of the season is a damning insight into his abilities as a manager. Neither of these factors are exactly a surprise to him are they? He knew full well the set pieces last season were abysmal as he said as much and said he would work to fix it. He has failed. As regards to not knowing his best team, the playing personnel is almost exactly the same as last season with actually a few additions and more options. So it’s not like he has lost key players from last season and is figuring out how to rework the team. I have literally lost count the amount of times he has changed the system or personnel he started with during the game. Sometimes at half time or even as soon as mid through the first half like at Fulham Monday night. It’s staggering really.
You can blame injuries, lack of investment in the summer or the Europa League, but the facts are our squad of players that we have at our disposal should not be anywhere near the relegation zone. The only circumstances that could possibly justify it is if we had an outbreak of a virus that wiped out our first choice eleven, we didn’t buy Anita or Bigirimana in the summer and sold a few first team players making us weaker and our Europa league away trips were to Russia, Ukraine and the furthest island in Greece that humanly possible. The reality is none of those things has happened.
We have only had 2 or 3 injuries to players that actually matter at any given time. We have a strong enough squad to tackle the league and Europe as we have a first team replacement for every first choice player unavailable. Ben Arfa > Marveaux/Obertan, Cabaye > Anita, Saylor >Willo/Perch, Tiote > Bigirimana/Perch, Ba > Cisse/Shola, Krul > Harper/Elliot etc. We also have had a very favourable Europa league schedule as trips to France, Belgium and Portugal are the best any club could hope for given the alternative. Just ask Liverpool if they enjoyed travelling to Russia or Spurs going down to Greece. As far as travelling goes, we got off lightly.
The players aren’t blameless in all of this because they are. Cheik Tiote, Papiss Cisse and even Yohan Cabaye have been shadows of themselves this season. Even Coloccini has had his fair share of shockers. The usual suspects in Mike Williamson and Jonas Gutierrez continue to frustrate the living hell out of you. Seriously, what in God’s name is Jonas? Is he now a full back? Has he gone from flying winger, to holding midfielder to full back in a year? In my eyes his next step should be the bench. Santon has proved to be a better attacker than him and offers more of a threat even from left back position, never mind the wing. The man is an embarrassment. If working hard, offering no positive play whatsoever and getting fouled every 5 minutes is good enough to warrant an indispensable first team place, then I am coming out of retirement. Sign me up!
Other issues have also contributed to us going backwards as a team and a club with Pardew’s lack of a strategy, within pre-historic tactics, with the wrong line up. I am not going to go into detail with this one it has all been said before. Although he has started the team in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 line up in the past two games which is encouraging. Unfortunately he has abandoned it at half time and after 27 minutes on both occasions. Even within the formation he has picked the wrong players to pick up certain positions. Like Ben Arfa should have been in the hole away at Fulham for example and not out on the left. It was obvious. Well to everyone except Pardew. When he did switch Benny to the right it was within a 4-4-2 formation which defied the object.
Do you see what I mean with one step forward then two steps back? It’s never ending with this man. Are we really going to have 8 more years of this? Is having a whole decade of taking baby steps forward to then take a giant leap back the object of stability? I thought the idea of stability was for a team to grow and to continuously improve. Well look at where we are now to when Pardew first took over. Not only have we not improved, we are worse. The fact we took a major step forward in between only compounds the situation we find ourselves in. It doesn’t defend it.
Mid-table > Top 6 > Bottom 6. Really? Let’s hope the next step forward is a huge one because the next two steps backwards could be catastrophic.