With 22 games gone in the Barclays Premier League, the 2012/13 campaign is well over the half-way point. One of the biggest surprises to many onlookers this season has been the steady demise of Newcastle United. Granted, many people realised that the Toon had excelled themselves in 2011/12 and that some sort of decline was likely, however few would’ve predicted that their slump would come so rapidly nor that it would be quite so pronounced.
Alan Pardew’s men produced an exceptional run of performances in the league last term, punching well above their weight to finish in fifth place, only five points off a Champions League spot. Although the Magpies season finished with somewhat of a whimper as squad limitations and fatigue began to catch up with them, their fifth place finish guaranteed them entry to the Europa League and fans remained optimistic that their beloved club was once again back amongst the big boys.
Fast forward eight months and things don’t look so rosy. Pardew’s men are currently occupying 16th place in the table, they sit just two points above the relegation zone and, with the form that they’re in, are just one defeat away from being sucked into the vortex at the bottom of he league.
The season began in promising style for the Magpies as they kicked-off with a home win on opening day, seeing off AVBs Tottenham side 2-1 at St. James’s. An away defeat at Chelsea followed, however that was always going to be a tough match to get points from and, as the season continued, Newcastle arrived at the second weekend of November having lost just twice in the league (the second defeat coming against Manchester United 0-3).
However, following his side’s 1-1 draw at Anfield, the wheels began to fall off Alan Pardew’s merry Toon bandwagon. The Magpies’ traditionally strong home form, a major aspect of their success last year, began to crumble. The club suffered back to back home defeats at the hands of West Ham and Swansea in the following two games, and two defeats on the bounce quickly became four as the Geordies went down at Southampton and Stoke. Four defeats in a row against teams that either finished well behind them the previous season or hadn’t even been in the same league, a worrying trend, if not at that time a cause for genuine worry.
A win against Wigan in their next home game settled a few nerves amongst the St. James’s Park faithful however, as I thought at the time, it proved to be a false dawn, the 3-0 score-line having been heavily influenced by the soft, early penalty and subsequent red card shown to Maynor Figueroa in the opening stages of the match.
Since that opening week of December, Pardew’s side have registered a victory just once in all competitions, losing seven of the nine they’ve played. Taking a broader view of the Geordies form, they’ve played 15, won 2, drawn 2, lost 11, in all competitions going back to November 8th – a run which culminated in a lacklustre performance as they were eliminated from the FA Cup in the third round by Gus Poyet’s Championship outfit, Brighton. This form has to be a massive worry for Pardew, his players, the supporters and everybody involved at the football club.
How has this happened? How has a side that did so well last year performed so dismally this? It’s hard to pinpoint one particular reason. Doubtless Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to invest in a winning team during the summer has contributed to the disaster. Utility player Vernon Anita was the club’s only relatively significant signing and he’s failed to make any real impression in his first six months in a Newcastle shirt. The extra burden of the Europa league is a factor and injuries to key players must also be taken into consideration, the loss of Cabaye and Ben Arfa for significant periods especially.
However, Pardew must surely shoulder some of the responsibility; there are plenty of small squads in the Premier League and all managers have to deal with injuries to important personnel at some point in the season or another. Pardew, it seems, has been unable to cope with the limitations in his squad and has been unable to find a way to get the best out of what he’s got. Newcastle lack creativity, particularly in the absence of the likes of Cabaye, however the stats show that the Magpies employ the use of the long ball more than any other team in the top division.
The frequency with which this hoof-ball tactic is employed suggests that it’s planned and as such, must come from the management. It obviously isn’t working and opposition teams have clearly cottoned on. Doesn’t Pardew have anything else to offer? Listening to West Ham fans is telling, the consensus amongst them (the one’s I’ve conversed with at least) is that he doesn’t. They claim that once other teams had worked them out under Pardew, he had no alternative approaches and, not only were they incapable of winning once that happened, but also the football was dire to behold. Ringing a bell Geordie fans?
To add to Pardew’s woe ( it’s not only his side’s shocking run of form that’s causing him headaches), he faces the prospect of losing several key players. Demba Ba, the club’s top scorer both last season and so far this season, has already gone, signing for Chelsea after the London club activated his supposed £7.5m release clause. Coloccini, one of Newcastle’s top performers in recent times, has handed in a transfer request, as he’s desperate to return to Argentina for personal reasons, and Hatem Ben Arfa has been making noises in several papers about a move away from St.James’s if not in January then in the summer, citing a lack of ambition at the club.
Pardew is having little success in attracting players to the club either. Granted Matthieu Debuchy has become a Magpie, the French international defender arriving in a deal rumoured to be worth £6m. However, with Newcastle struggling for creativity and goals, is he the kind of signing that they really need?
Loic Remy the Marseille striker has been a long-term target of Pardew’s and a couple of days ago looked to be a done deal, however, Harry Redknapp is also a Remy fan and and has launched an effort to bring him to Loftus Road. Remy is reportedly yet to decide between the two, however the papers are claiming that he could well join QPR, having been offered a very generous package. If Remy does join Harry in London it will be a massive kick in the teeth for Pardew and Newcastle and could make the difference between limited success (staying up) and abject failure (going down).
Bizarre as it is to be discussing a team that finished fifth last season being relegated this year, that’s exactly what could happen to Newcastle. Better teams than them have gone down in the past, Boro in 97 or West Ham in 03 for example, and with the teams around them improving and beginning to grow into the season, Pardew has a job on to arrest the slide and rejuvenate his struggling side. Failure to see him turn things around quickly may see Pardew, Ashley and the Geordies right back where they don’t want to be; the Championship.
Coloccini image by mikebrown59