Saturday, May 04, 2013
From Indifference To Majesty To Boos
12 months ago the Toon Army were buzzing. They had just defeated Stoke City 3-0 at St James’ Park, brushing aside Tony Pulis men with consummate ease. At the heart was a midfield the envy of much of the Premier League. Yohan Cabaye, Cheicke Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Guitierrez were the pivot of a team that was enjoying a run of six unbeaten games conceding just one in the process.
Up front Papiss Cisse had come in during the mid season transfer window and added 13 premier league goals in his 13 starts providing an excellent foil for demba Ba who had begun the season explosively with 14 of his own.
Newcastle were flavor of the month and their scouting network, headed by Graham Carr, was lauded by one and all with the accent on young, talented Frenchmen echoing the work of Arsen Wenger in the late 1990s.
The Toon Army were ecstatic of course and they laid the credit at the door of manager Alan Pardew, a man who had been appointed gaffer to a reaction of ‘indifference’. They sang about climbing the football league, getting into Europe and, the chant echoed round the stands at every home, ‘Pardew is our king.’ The Europa League beckoned.
Fast forward 12 months. Their last two home games have seen them lose 6-0 at home to Liverpool and 3-0 against local rivals Sunderland and they are just five points off the last relegation place with Wigan Athletic having a game in hand. And crucially those nine goals shipped in front of their disbelieving fans has given them the same goal difference as Wigan.
Ironically it was Wigan who ended Newcastle’s run last season as they thrashed them 4-0 at the DW Stadium as they sought to hold on to their Premier League place. Alan Pardew must be hoping Roberto Martinez men are more focused on their first FA Cup Final appearance against Manchester City.
But what has happened in the north east? Why have Newcastle slipped so alarmingly?
Certainly they have missed key players at important times of the season. Fabricio Collocini and Martin Krul were missing from the Liverpool debacle for example. And then there was the distraction of the Europa League adding 14 games to the already full domestic fixture list as well as air miles and an increased knowledge of the European map.
But back in June, July last year as Pardew set about planning for the new season it seemed signing new players wasn’t part of the scheme. Some players were bought in, the likes of Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigirimana and Curtis Good and it’s fair to say none have made any real impact.
December defeats against Manchester United (3-4) and Arsenal (3-7) showed something needed to be done and Newcastle were busy in the Transfer window bringing in Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Guffron, Yapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Mathieu Debuchy but by then the barn door was closing. The damage had been done and as Harry Redknapp said recently following Queens’ Park Rangers relegation the real work is done pre season.
Despite the gap between Newcastle and Wigan Pardew and the fans won’t be complacent. Two of their three remaining games are in London, against QPR and West Ham United and the Geordies notoriously return up the A1 with very little to show for their travels.
Then there is the final home game of the season. Against Arsenal who have their own reasons for not giving the home team an easy ride.
Pardew has gone from being viewed with indifference to be hailed as the king. Now he is the victim of the boo boys. If Newcastle stay up the club will have learnt some massive lessons for the future regarding player recruitment and competition prioritization but whether Pardew will be around to learn from those lessons remains to be seen.
Jakarta Globe Column 4/5/13 (not posted on line)