It’s been a depressing season for a number of reasons. All season, Alan Pardew has been giving interviews scattered with the term ‘trust me’ or ‘believe me’. The initial reaction when someone comes out with an opinion followed by the words ‘trust me’ is to be entirely suspicious. Abject performances, long-term injuries, baffling score-lines, no wins in the derbies and the departure of a world class striker mid-season. And with our primary target choosing an even more relegation haunted club than us.
After the 2-1 home victory over Stoke City with a late Cisse strike, Pardew’s post-match interview had shades of him clapping his hands with a self-satisfied ‘well, that’s me done for the day’ look on his face; 13th in the table, job done. Only, it wasn’t job done and to be satisfied with 13th place after narrowly missing out on a Champions’ League place last season, it was anything but job done.
He then went on in the same interview to say that the club’s ambition now was to finish tenth. Tenth? Well, if we all adopted such lofty aspirations, think what we could achieve? We could win £10 on a scratch card or make a really tasty cheese and ham sandwich in under an hour. I half expected him to have brought some party cakes and mini-sausage rolls into training on the Monday and announced it as a dress-down day in celebration. He could have at least trotted out such well worn platitudes as ‘we’re going to aim as high as we can and hopefully roll our form onto next season and a crack at the top four’.
Yes, he’s not my manager. Yet I went into work on the Monday after the game wondering what the point of being alive was, such was the lack of inspiration or ambition.
If there were such a thing as an I-Spy book of Newcastle United Premier League games, they should be given to supporters as they enter the ground before a game. Fans could then spend the next 90 minutes spotting things in the book and ticking them off; events such as the ball hitting Steven Taylor’s arm in the box, Tiote getting a yellow card, Cisse scoring an offside goal, Ben Arfa losing possession in a dangerous area, Cisse scoring another offside goal, the list goes on. So far the only category I haven’t managed to tick this season is ‘Jonas playing an effectual ball into the box from out wide’.
Where last season Demba Ba was finding the net regularly and then giving way to Cisse who on early form looked like he was going to break the club goal-scoring record in his first ten games – this season has seen massive disruption to the squad through injuries, loss of form for key players, questionable team selections and tactics but most of all, the staccato effect on the fixture list of the Europa League.
Back in December, I remember thinking that the season didn’t feel like it had really started. We played Wigan at home on Monday 3rd December at which time only four of Newcastle’s fourteen games had been played on a Saturday. It wasn’t until the previous game at Stoke City on 28th November that someone other than Ba, Ben Arfa or Cabaye had scored in the league.
The season seemed to get going at last come January with the fresh injection of the pace and power provided by Sissoko and Gouffran who between them provided four goals in their first three league games. But that early promise soon faded with successive away defeats at Swansea and Wigan, the latter defeat coming after an obvious handball by Wigan’s Figueroa was missed, allowing Kone to score the winner in the 90th minute.
This brings me nicely to the worst result of the season.
At the time, the Tiote red card and Demba Ba own goal to give Sunderland the equaliser in the 86th minute at the Stadium of Light (given that Ba also missed a penalty against Sunderland last season – it seemed he was destined to become the anti-Shola) felt like it was going to be the worst defeat, or at least worst feeling at the end of a game – of the season.
However, there was worse, far worse to come. Defeat to West Ham at home – defeat to a Sam Allardyce team is always difficult to stomach but for the winner to be scored by the man the Geordies used to adore made it all the worse. Swansea, Southampton and Stoke inflicting a further three successive defeats started the alarm bells ringing and despite the 3-0 home victory over Wigan, two more defeats to Fulham and Manchester City made it just three points taken from twenty one.
Brief respite was garnered by a barrel-scraping 1-0 victory at home over QPR but that was followed by some of the darkest moments ever experienced by the Newcastle faithful. Not quite the 4-3 loss to Liverpool in 1996, the 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford was not without its positives but a defeat all the same.
It was followed nicely by the 7-3 thrashing by Arsenal, our worst ever Premier League reverse and the heartbreaking 1-2 defeat to Everton at home. Somehow, we still weren’t in the bottom three – a sign that this could well have been the worst collection of top-flight teams ever. A draw at Norwich was followed by another defeat, this time at home in a game that had shades of Blackburn Rovers in 1996 – Adam Le Fondre playing the part of Graeme Fenton. Losing to eventually relegated Reading at home also had echoes of the 1-0 defeat at Derby under Sam Allardyce (Derby’s only victory of the entire season that year) and the 0-2 home reverse against Blackburn Rovers in May 2007 which led to Glenn Roeder’s departure.
Still Pardew soldiered on – a sign perhaps that Mike Ashley will stick with him through thin and thinner. With a mini-renaissance of five wins in the next nine league games coinciding with the arrival of the French imports, the fans were set for a nervous end to the season that should have been avoided but for the inexplicable capitulation against a Sunderland side clearly lacking in any real quality save for Sessegnon and Johnson (two of the scorers incidentally) and the ridiculous 6-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool.
Still, we did well in the Europa League and gave Benfica, eventual Euro cup finalists a run for their money – losing only to a horror backpass and a bi-monthly Steven Taylor’s arm-borne-penalty. We outplayed Chelsea and in the process looked like a team that could challenge for the top four next season, owing mostly to the performance of the excellent Moussa Sissoko. However, these are the only two positives I can eke from a season of despair and disappointment.
I’m sure there are equally as many fans who are fed up with Alan Pardew as those who wouldn’t be adverse to him staying on. The doubters are probably those who were underwhelmed when he walked through the door after the bewildering dismissal of Chris Hughton.
Granted, for whatever reason, Newcastle’s season has been one of curiously poor results, lack of creativity and bad luck but what will change if Pardew is shown the door? Too many times in the recent past has a manager who did well initially, only to oversee a steady decline in performances and results, been sacked. The board would then replace him with another manager who did well initially and then oversaw a steady decline in performances and results and was then sacked.
Rafa Benitez could come in at the beginning of next season, take Newcastle to 4th place and then see the second season blighted by too many games, injuries and squad fractions – culminating in his dismissal with Newcastle 17th going into the final game of the season. So what does Mike Ashley do?
He could start by investing in a badly needed target man to do the job Shola used to be able to do before his knees turned into biscuits. Many see Andy Carroll as the answer and the increased television revenue on offer next season could well mean affording his transfer fee, but is that all that stands between Newcastle finishing in the top 6 or being in a relegation scrap next season; a forward line of Carroll and Remy certainly sounds top six.
Or does Ashley go for a manager with a pedigree of delivering consistency, stability and positive results – and then overhaul the squad to match the new manager’s requirements?
As per usual, we’ve ended the season thinking we need a new manager and new players.
At the end of last season, we thought ‘manager of the year’ Alan Pardew was finally the answer to every Newcastle fan’s prayers; a good manager who was here for the long term. Someone who could stabilise the club into an entity which could finally stand on solid foundations and continue to be built from the ground up, year on year.
Looking into history to give us a glimpse of the future is unsettling in the least.
Ipswich qualified for the UEFA cup through their league placing in 2001-2002 only to be relegated the following season. Pardew himself oversaw West Ham’s 9th place finish in the Premier League coupled with an appearance in the final of the FA Cup, but that was followed by a horror season – West Ham suffered their worst run of defeats for seven decades culminating in his sacking and replacement by Alan Curbishley.
West Ham incidentally scraped to survival, finishing on 41 points, three above the final relegation spot which was occupied by Sheffield United.
But there is a crumb of gold amongst the black and white ashes – David Moyes, the man trusted to take over from the greatest manager in British history, took Everton in his first full season to 7th in the Premier League. In his second season they finished 17th with 39 points, a total which had seen many teams relegated in the past. In his third season however, they finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League.
There could be a lesson there somewhere.
Written by Peter Nuttall