Comparing Newcastle’s last two performances to most of the last nine months, you could forgive suffering Geordies asking why their team can’t play like that every week. The Toon Army’s recent upturn is a far cry from the form that saw Alan Pardew’s side record just five wins from 25 games.
But even the most cynical fan would find it hard to begrudge their manager some respect at the moment.
Newcastle’s first-ever win at the Etihad Stadium was preceded by back-to-back league successes over Leicester and Tottenham, while they also secured a spirited point at Swansea.
Fifty shades of grey
The Newcastle job would age anyone – quite visibly in Pardew's case. He arrived in the North East a conspicuous outsider; an underwhelming appointment following the departure of Chris Hughton, but with an overwhelming Cockney chutzpah. “Newcastle are one of the top five clubs in England,” he declared boldly in his first press conference.
Yet he has since only managed to deliver on that claim once. A dalliance with relegation in 2013, coupled with unacceptable runs of form both this season and the one before, have led to concerted efforts to remove him from his post. All managers are under pressure, but the protests Pardew has faced are another level and the self-assured silver fox who sat in the dugout four years ago has turned an unmistakable shade of grey.
Many managers would have walked, and that Pardew has stayed is as much to his credit as it is to Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to pay him off. Imagine trying to do your job with thousands of people booing you every week. Having said all that, there are still plenty of legitimate rods with which to beat Pardew’s back.
There's his poor handling of Hatem Ben Arfa, plenty of PR faux-pas, headbutting David Meyler, swearing at Manuel Pellegrini, pushing a linesman, hitherto now awful domestic cup runs, his record against Sunderland, the long list of excuses and, of course, the fact that the current purple patch does not cancel out the barren sequences of the last two years. If Pardew had been sacked, there could have been no complaints.
He hasn’t, though, and nor does it seem likely that Ashley will renege on this position. It’s something Newcastle fans must come to terms with. Equally, however, Pardew must check the privilege of his situation.
He is effectively ‘unsackable’ and thus has a responsibility to do something that merits that title. He’s spun the “I want to win silverware” line for years now, and certainly a cup win would assuage fans indefinitely.
But, as the nature of modern football decrees, the league must be treated as priority. Under Pardew, Newcastle’s league standings have fallen some way short of expectation.
To the outsider the looking in, 12th, 5th, 16th and 10th might not look bad for a team that was playing a division below just four years ago, but Newcastle are not a small club.
For all the patronising rhetoric levied by other fans, Newcastle’s rude financial health must not be overlooked. A club with such history, fan base and, largely by virtue of Graham Carr, some players with huge potential, must be doing better. The question is: how much better? What would constitute a good season for Newcastle? What would stop the moaning?
The reality is that Geordies are no more deluded than any other set of football fans. Every club has their blind biases, and most Newcastle fans don’t expect 5th every season, nor even 6th.
Ideally, they’d like to challenge for the Europa League, but would be content with finishing top half so long as they gave the push for Europe a genuine go and didn’t succumb to so many heavy defeats.
Having spent over £40 million in the summer, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Geordies to have aired their disappointment with this season’s poor start and last term’s capitulation.
So, how sustainable is Newcastle’s current form? Pardew is beginning to answer his numerous critics in the right way, but there is still a long way to go before his tenure can be considered a success.
He has been backed in the transfer market and against the backdrop of poor results.
In Remy Cabella, Siem de Jong, Daryl Janmaat, Moussa Sissoko, Cheick Tiote and Tim Krul, he has players of European pedigree, while the emergent Rolando Aarons looks full of promise.
With that, it is up to Pardew to justify his obscenely long contract (six years to go!) or forever be viewed as a man out of his depth.
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