This summer has been an ideal time for new beginnings at Newcastle United. New coaching staff. New players. A supposed new playing style. Most importantly, there is a new manager in situ. All this means there’s also a second chance available to players who predate this period of change at the club. McLaren will want a good look at all the players he’s inherited, not just the ones favoured previously. Maybe he can spot something in one of our write-offs that he thinks could prove useful to the team.
While that clean slate has to apply to all the players, it’d be a good idea if it was also applied by our fans too. Like most clubs, we have a long history of choosing one or two from the squad to be the subject of our fury. It’s like a baton passed down through the ages. I can’t remember there ever being a time when we all didn’t know exactly who was to blame before it even happened. As one has walked off into the sunset, and probably been quite happy about it after spending every matchday being beasted from the stands, another has merely been selected. Kevin Brock gave way to Darren Peacock, who passed on the crown of thorns to Alessandro Pistone, and eventually to the king of them all, Shola Ameobi. A collective chill must have passed through the remainder of the squad when he finally left last summer. Who would be chosen next, they must have wondered? They most likely already knew, Mike Williamson and Yoan Gouffran currently head the queue for criticism. Some queue it was last season too; Obertan, Riviere, and Ameobi Jnr all made a play for the title. This isn’t just a sneer on my part towards those in our crowd who can’t do without a hate object. If you pay your money you have a right to criticise poor performance, and I’ve done it myself over the years in spades. Bellowing abuse at someone the moment they emerge from the tunnel isn’t covered by the description of fair criticism however. Taking that argument to it’s conclusion, booing a player seems so much worse than merely howling incoherently with frustration, because one is a deliberately personal attack and the other a reaction to a particular incident in the moment.
With this in mind, what to think on Williamson being booed early on against Sheffield United on Sunday gone? An awayday pre-season friendly relatively close to home is inevitably going to attract a sizeable crew of day-trippers distinct from the regular in-season away support, so let’s hope this is an isolated instance rather than the start of something. If we can agree that booing him apropos of nothing is wrong, then let’s move onto the more common sentiment which has been building for some time. Of course hyperbole is never far from the lips of a football fan, but I can categorically state that Mike Williamson is not the worst player ever to pull on the black and white shirt. Not even close to it. I grew up watching a forward line of Billy Rafferty and Ray Clarke. I saw a fair few of the 42-game season in 1980-81 which yielded just 30 league goals in the second tier. Think of the dross who’ve turned out for us over the years; not just the obvious ones who got the odd game like Fumaca or Albert Craig, but crashingly poor players who were regulars for a prolonged period of time like Amdy Faye or Frank Pingel. Williamson gets criticism for hoofing it but at least he is capable of putting his foot through a ball, unlike Andreas Andersson for instance. I’d also say Jean-Alain Boumsong for one has put his foot in it more spectacularly than anything our current beanpole bungler’s done.
Let’s not forget that it was only a couple of years ago our fans were calling not completely ironically to “get Iron Mike on the plane”. In case you’ve forgotten or struggle to believe it now, that was the plane to Brazil, for the World Cup. Yes, as a member of the England squad. The extreme of opinion was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
Williamson is limited, that’s all. He’s at the club because he’s a big lad who attacks the ball in the air, as anyone would understand who’d seen our capitulation in the first half at Everton last season with Mbiwa and Coloccini playing centre-back, neither of whom can do that job. I would rather he wasn’t a first choice but we need someone like him. If he was fourth-choice centre-back I’d be satisfied with that. Of course what is usually overlooked when focus falls on Williamson is that he was playing in a poor side bereft of confidence last season and no-one shines in that situation. His partner Coloccini hasn’t played well for a couple of years now and doesn’t come in for anything like the stick that comes Williamson’s way.
The motivation of people booing Williamson is something to puzzle over. It certainly won’t get him to perform any better. Maybe they’re trying to force him out, his appearance in black and white offending them so. If that’s the case they need to have a look at the squad list. If Chancel Mbemba is awarded a work permit then we apparently have a centre-half coming in but one is not enough if our other options consist of the fragile Steven Taylor, Coloccini on the downward slope of his career and various full-backs who can do a job in the middle in a crisis. I do hope they haven’t given a clean slate to the one person who doesn’t deserve it, Mike Ashley, because he hasn’t yet fulfilled his promise to punch above our weight financially, let alone the one about providing us with a team with which we could win something. I hope we’re not prostrating ourselves in thanks before Ashley for buying some players using money we gave him in the understanding it would be used like this. Maybe if we’re going to boo someone it should be the owner, not one of the players, at least until he fulfils his promise to run the club with sporting achievement as its goal using all the finances at its disposal. Our recruitment so far this summer has been entirely positive, from manager to coaches to the 3 players we’ve bought, but there needs to be more and until there is the objections people had last season should continue to stand.
For many who voted Labour in the 2015 General Election, their decision to abstain on the vote for the 2nd reading of the Tories’ Welfare Bill last night will come as nothing less than a betrayal. If they were like me they voted in the hope that the polls were right and Labour could make an arrangement with the SNP, Greens & Plaid Cymru to form a progressive government which could begin to roll back some of the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition’s attacks on the poor and disadvantaged.
As we all know, that particular dream foundered on the electorate’s mistrust of Labour on the economy, and also in no small part on a late scare drummed up by the Tories which successfully roused the fears of English imperialist tendencies that Scottish nationalists might have a say in how the UK is run. Now, instead of a repeal of the bedroom tax we face regressive changes to social security which threaten the ability of millions to keep their heads above water.
A report by the independent House of Commons Library on the predicted effects of the bill requested by Labour MP Frank Field reached the overwhelming conclusion that those on lower incomes would be worse off as a result of it. No surprise there of course, the whole point of the bill is to reduce spending by hanging onto money which had previously been earmarked to help the poor.
I’d have thought it’d only be natural for a Labour party in opposition to try to defeat such a bill, by voting against it. As Simon Jenkins put it in the Guardian though, “voting against the welfare package as a whole would have walked into the irresponsibility trap. “ Jenkins, and many others, consider Harman’s decision to order Labour to abstain to be tactically sound. She wished to avoid giving the impression of “blanket opposition” having so recently lost an election and thus being seen to go against the wishes of the electorate, as well as not wishing to tie the hands of whoever is eventually elected leader in terms of policy.
However, there’s no evidence people voted Tory because they agreed with the specific cuts proposed in the Welfare Bill. Indeed, they couldn’t have done as the Tories refused to tell anyone before the election how they would achieve the levels of cuts they deemed necessary. There’s no reason to deem opposition unjustified on these grounds. Even if there were, Harman’s determination to prioritize the views of the 24% of those eligible to vote who cast theirs for the Tories ahead of the people who actually voted for the party she temporarily leads is nothing short of bizarre.
There’s more. Though Harman was explicit in her intention of wishing to choose the battles the party will fight, many Labour MPs chose to give conflicting explanations for why they were happy to go along with her plan. Leadership candidate Andy Burnham claimed afterwards that had he been leader the party would have voted against the bill, but that his position in the Shadow Cabinet compelled him not to do so because of the need for collective responsibility. Stella Creasy, a Deputy Leader candidate, reasoned that there were good things contained in the bill and she would prefer to try to change the bad at the committee stage than throw out everything. Creasy is very active on twitter and it was amusing last night to note her bio announces bullishly “Sitting on the sidelines is for Waldorf and Statler” as she justified to her followers sitting on the sidelines now until the committees come along.
Chi Onwurah, whose constituency of Newcastle Central would be affected more than most, released a statement outlining her belief in the necessity of welfare reform and the provision for 3 million apprenticeships contained within the bill among other things. Bafflingly she seemed to think that because she had already voted against the budget and would vote against “regressive measures” in the future, the need for her to vote against this was reduced.
A few Labour MPs seem to approve of quite a bit of this bill and perhaps it suits them to shelter behind Harman’s orders to sit on the fence for now. Despite the experience of 2010, when Labour’s leadership contest meant they withdrew from front-line politics for months and allowed the Coalition to win the economic argument without an argument ever taking place, they appear to be doing precisely the same thing now on so-called austerity and the cuts agenda pursued with ever-more vigour by George Osborne and his acolytes.
The unexpected level of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership challenge suggests that the membership is both a whole lot more left-wing than the PLP, and a whole lot more left-wing than the PLP expected. On Newsnight tonight John McTernan dismissed Corbyn’s supporters as suicidally inclined “morons”. When the PLP ensured Corbyn got on the ballot mostly against their individual will to “ensure the debate was heard” I think they forgot Ed Miliband had changed the voting system to remove their overwhelming influence meaning the token left-winger actually had a chance of winning. They won’t make that mistake again, but their performance over the last few days has increased Corbyn’s chances even further as the grassroots collectively shake their heads at the muddled chaos that is the PLP right now.
Harman’s position may well meet with the approval of lobby journalists and the PLP but out here, where the cuts actually happen, where the people are who’ll be affected, it doesn’t play quite so well. Harman and the 184 Labour MPs who abstained on Monday night appear from afar to be engaging in Westminster sophistry, and seem more interested in internal party discipline than fighting against an iniquitous bill which will increase poverty among their constituents. If the Labour party is for anything it should be to stand up for the defenceless. Whatever their reasons, the failure to vote against the bill is less abstention and more an abdication of duty.
You cut my throat;
I’ll cut yours.
On your way out
watch your arse
on the swinging double doors.
I can’t have it –
feel a fool
I’d rather both have
if I had less than you.
starts right there
The line of
I get up from my chair.
Owe you nothing,
want zip back
if you can’t make it
on your own
you’re just rats in a sack.
I’m not waiting,
I won’t walk
Think we should be on
the same side?
Well, that’s just crazy talk.
I’ll do my job;
you do yours
expect my train
with open double doors
I want to walk around the town
so I can see who’s there.
I want to see the pretty girls
saunter without care.
I want to see the strutting boys
stick out their peacock chest
and hope their template inky arms
stand out from all the rest.
To be at home among the crowd,
a friend in every face;
Our lives as something to be shared
and not some squalid race.
I want to see how people are
who think they still belong,
remember how I felt like them
before my hope had gone.
It’s become more and more clear over the course of several years that there is a disconnect at the heart of Newcastle United. It’s nominally a football club but somewhere along the line there’s been a separation from what the aims of such a club should be. It’s plain now that the focus of the club isn’t on achieving sporting excellence. It’s not even on being the best it can be within the operating parameters publicly specified by the owners.
The world was told a long time ago that the club had to pay its own way, that there would be no capital outlay by those in control. With the amount of money pouring into Premier League clubs, that hardly necessitates hardship or austerity. If a large proportion of the spare cash available to the club was used to improve the staff both on the coaching and playing rosters, there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect the club’s fortunes to take a dramatic upturn. Players of good quality coming in to fill obvious gaps in the squad. Regular comfortable top-half finishes and challenges for European places, with a squad able to handle serious attempts to do well in the cups, all of this would be possible. I for one have no yearning for a sugar daddy in charge. If Newcastle did it right I’d be very happy with no capital outlay.
Anyone can see that particular pipe dream isn’t what’s happening. The club has a sub-standard head coach and his coaching staff have shown no sign of improving a single player in years. Never mind missing the odd piece in the jigsaw, the entire squad is one big gap. Rather than improvement year on year, if anything the playing situation gets worse. All the while profits are posted, and the club’s cash account fills and fills and fills. No attempt is made to use the money the club generates to improve its on-field performance. The focus is two-fold. Firstly, Newcastle United is a cash-cow for another business therefore spending must be cut as far as is possible without jeopardising the easy money that comes from participation in the Premier League. The people running the club are so incompetent it looks like they won’t even be able to pull that off this season, though there’s still a chance they may fluke survival yet. Secondly, the club is used as a means of raising the profile of the owner’s main business, via the medium of the free advertising he awards himself. As a tale of sporting endeavour, Chariots of Fire it ain’t.
The disconnect goes deeper than that though. John Carver, the head coach, is in the middle of overseeing the club’s worst run of form ever. His CV shows nothing which might explain why he was handed control at a Premier League club if you ignore his address. Right now it seems like his major draw for the club was that he didn’t have much of a bus journey to the training ground. He was the less talented assistant to someone who should have been sacked 4 times as Newcastle manager before he finally jumped ship and quit. Taking that into account it’s no surprise he’s incapable of solving the problems which were already evident when he took the job. If he had any ideas on how to do that surely he would have mentioned them at some point between rejoining the club in 2011 and now. Carver has been giving the impression of a man who’s ready to snap for some time, but no-one has been prepared to put him out of his misery so far. Now he’s begun to lash out, at both the fans and the players. Newcastle made a PR effort to defuse the trouble caused by his slanging match with fans around the dugout at the Swansea home game, but no amount of media massage is going to repair the damage of the public criticism of his own players after yet another defeat at Leicester last weekend. Maybe he was right to say some weren’t trying. Maybe he was right to single out players for cowardice in getting themselves sent off as an easy way out. But having said that, there is nothing more certain than that those players won’t be busting a gut for him from now on. Attacking your own players usually signifies the end game for any manager under duress, a last cry of public defiance when anything they do has ceased to make any difference. Generally they might as well go outside and roar at the weather for all the good it’ll do them. Carver even said himself the players might not be listening to him any more. He has lost his dressing room now, if it could be said that anyone on an 8-game losing streak hadn’t done that already.
A club then, who have become separated from what a club should be. A manager who has lost his connection with the players, unable to motivate or organise them. Finally, fans who traditionally are unwilling to act to alter their club and prepared to turn up virtually no matter what appear to have reached the point where all that changes. Protests, match boycotts, and season ticket cancellations feel like they’re gaining traction. People have had enough of being taken for granted, their opinions ignored, and antagonised by those who should be ensuring they are enthused. The first effective protest movement among Newcastle United fans in years has sprung up within weeks. With 3 games to play though, Newcastle are only 2 points away from the bottom 3. After only 2 home games of protest, now it seems we need to abandon our protests and pull together to save the club from relegation. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told the owner can do anything he likes with the club. It’s his, and we don’t have a say what happens. Nothing we do can have an effect on the club anyway as they are reliant no longer on gate receipts but on the money coming in from TV rights. Well, the disconnect between club and fans means I no longer feel responsible for saving the club. Let the Sky millions roar the team home. Let the bulging cash account suck a goal into the Gallowgate net when it’s most needed. If the players need inspiration at a vital moment, let them look to Mike Ashley laughing uproariously as fans sing he should get out of their club. I’m out; let them sink or swim without me, for the near future at least.
You don’t need to tell me
I won’t kill myself, trying to stay in your life
I got no distance left to run”
Some years ago, after a season in which Newcastle had beaten their greatest rivals Sunderland 5-1, the best derby result of my lifetime, I rubbed my hands together with satisfaction at the prospect of the core of the team being sold. The great idea was to progress from mediocrity and become the kind of side which could rise up the table to challenge those in contention for European qualification. To do that Newcastle needed to ditch the workers, the battlers, the limited journeymen and fill the side with the technically gifted, players able to pass the ball and keep possession. These players were to come from cheaper markets and clever scouting would ensure that in addition to being better, they’d also be younger and cheaper than the then current crop.
For a time it worked. Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique followed Andy Carroll out of the door to be replaced by Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Davide Santon and in the next window Papiss Cisse. The team finished 5th the next season and the plan seemed to have had the desired effect. The following summer only the disappointing Vurnon Anita arrived with Best and Forster the notable leavers. Alan Pardew’s game plan having been found out, the team struggled badly and in danger of relegation panic buys were made in January. Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Gouffran, Haidara and Sissoko came in with Ba deciding to chase the money with Chelsea. The season after Cabaye left in the winter with only Loic Remy in on loan to speak of in the summer. This season Janmaat and Perez have come in and been successes, Cabella showing the odd sign of life too recently.
Look at who’s come in over that time, who’s done well, and think of which of them are still here apart from the newly arrived. Even just since 2011, the successes have all left again and we are left with a squad who aren’t better than what went before, they’re just younger and cheaper. Add to that a cost-cutting strategy which has seen us not just lose quality but quantity too, and a few injuries and suspensions have left the club struggling for any options, never mind effective ones.
To compound the gloom, after Alan Pardew left we appointed a manager who was a failure in the lower leagues and at a lower standard in MLS. The appointment appeared to have been made mostly on the basis that as a local lad he wouldn’t have far to travel. So as our squad goes downhill they are led by someone at a disadvantage to most if not all of the coaching teams he comes up against.
Notwithstanding that, it’s the popularly asserted idea of our scouting miracle that I find most misleading. Yes, we make good buys on the cheap. And then when we do we sell them again with no lack of haste. Take them out of the equation and our recruitment looks very ordinary indeed.
We lost our 5th derby on the trot to Sunderland on Sunday 5th April 2015, their best ever run in these games. Over the time those games were played Sunderland were pretty much always a team in crisis, avoiding relegation only narrowly. While on this run of record-breaking victories against their greatest rivals they have sacked 2 managers in 2 years. They did worse when they were the highest-spending club in the country, the Bank of England Club. They did worse when they were at their peak, the Team of All Talents. Imagine the incompetence and mismanagement on our part to achieve that.
There’s only so long this can go on. That’s true in more than one way. Our team building isn’t a stable system, it’s not in equilibrium but on a downward trend. Eventually the team will deteriorate enough to go down, and maybe this time they won’t come back. But also eventually people will stop caring. They’ll stop being willing to be taken advantage of, to be expected to turn up no matter what. It’s happened before. Either end of the 1980s were a bleak time for fans and attendances suffered. As our relative glory days get ever further away and ever more obviously not returning, the ties from the good times will fade. I know we’ve all heard this before and it never happens, or it hasn’t yet anyway. This time people who have always kept on coming back might in the end just find they have no reason to any more.
I’m one of the oft-derided thousands who bought their first season ticket in the wake of Kevin Keegan’s arrival at the club in the early 1990s. I did it then because it was the only way to get into the match at the time. Before that I was quite happy turning up when it suited me, 7-10 times a season when there was something worth watching, less when there wasn’t or I had something better to do. Sometimes finances, or work, dictated me staying away more. I could go back to picking and choosing my games and there will be many just like me. Once I’ve made that step it’ll be the simplest thing in the world to just stop completely.
Waltz right in, why don’t you?
I guess that was always the plan.
With a smile on your face saying you own the place,
“Don’t you know who I am?”
I know who you are alright
The opened door let in a chill
I’ll not make hay whatever you say
I don’t want your cheap thrill.
Once when sides were taken
yours was surely mine.
I never left, you fell out of step
and marched to another man’s time.
When I looked for a friend where were you?
There were times I was under attack.
When I needed a shield you were truly revealed
you never had my back.
So now you need me for something,
the tables are turned for a while.
Sure, I’ll help, but not you, someone else.
I’m turning my back on your smile.
So Deadline Day has come and gone again. The end of January tends to be a twitchy time for people of the footballing persuasion, wondering if their club will make a signing which will change their fortunes for the better, but also whether they’ll lose key performers. Will they sell to buy, speculate to accumulate, cash in or sit tight? For Newcastle fans it means something different to supporters of most other clubs. After seven years of Mike Ashley, we know that there isn’t going to be a sudden change of emphasis, a push to succeed. It’s a better than evens bet in fact that in some way our season will be abandoned, either by the loss of key players or a manager without replacement.
The deadline day I speak of isn’t February 2nd 2015, when our transfer window was less slammed shut than had its frame painted over. No, it’s January 31st, the annual last opportunity for the many with ten-year season tickets to cancel, this time for the 2015/16 season. Every year without fail come agonies of indecision as people aware they are being taken for a ride eventually decide they quite like talking to their friends and drinking beer while they are being taken advantage of. I know, I’m one of them. It’s interesting I think that as the seven years have gone by there has been less and less rumour released each time to persuade us to hang on. This year the club’s reported activities were almost completely without artifice. They publicly stated they wouldn’t be making a permanent head coach appointment before the summer. The only recruitment rumours involved a host of teenagers, many without a first-team appearance to their name. None of it designed to change the minds of potential recusants anyway. It’s almost as if they’ve realised they don’t have to bother peddling us bullshit about superstar signings that might happen just after our last opportunity to cancel our renewal. More than likely we’ll choose not to cancel for another year anyway.
The final day or two of the transfer window did provide some interest however. After the window shuts is a time to take stock. This time Newcastle had 6 loanees going out and no-one coming in. In terms of squad depth none have made much impact on the first team recently, though Davide Santon has been unavailable through injury for a fair period. Our defensive roster looks scarily thin but it would take a very unusual set of events to bring the absence of the loanees into play. Remie Streete is out of contract at the end of the season and is unlikely to return and Santon supposedly has a buy clause in his loan, but the loans should if anything help the other loanees come back to the club as better players. Barring Santon, the other five are all on loan at Glasgow Rangers of course. Playing under pressure there will hopefully bring them all on, just as Mehdi Abeid’s spell at Panathinaikos did last season, so the loans should benefit Newcastle in a playing sense. I expect them to benefit Rangers as well. Shane Ferguson, Vuckic and Bigirimana have all made appearances in the English Championship and Premier League and have enough pedigree to make an impact in the Scottish Championship. I’ve not seen Streete play but Mbabu is an athletic full back who might well play a part too.
Inevitably bearing in mind Mike Ashley’s interest in Rangers, the deal itself has come in for some scrutiny. I believe it tells us a lot about Ashley’s intentions for both clubs. Ashley has essentially moved assets from one part of his empire to another. That would be fine in most fields of business, he has to coin a phrase taken stock from one outlet and sent it to another. If Newcastle fans don’t like the money they pay into the club subsidising Ashley’s aspirations for another part of his business, this is only the most visible manifestation so far of something that’s been going on for ages when you consider the free advertising for and murky merchandising deal with Sports Direct. In football however there are concerns about the integrity of competition. It’d also be interesting to know if this multiple loan deal was part of the conditions of the financial loan provided by Ashley to Rangers a week or so ago. In sending fringe players to Rangers Ashley has been careful not to jeopardise the on-field ability of Newcastle, all the while greatly improving the chances of Rangers getting back into the SPL if not automatically then via the playoffs. The quicker they can get back there, the quicker they have an opportunity to qualify for European competition. So Ashley is making an effort to get Rangers back to success as soon as he can without affecting Newcastle’s ability to compete in their own league.
The clear implication is that he wishes to hold onto his interest in both clubs. The English Premier League TV deal provides seemingly ever-increasing riches year-on-year to a middling club like Newcastle which can’t be matched even by the most successful Scottish clubs. The untapped potential in Newcastle’s position is in Champions League prize money, and it’s likely to stay untapped. Once Rangers get back to that top division it will be a lot easier and take a lot less financial outlay to get them into the Champions League than it would Newcastle. It makes a lot of sense from Ashley’s point of view to keep Newcastle ticking over in mid table as an undemanding cash cow, and push for Rangers to reach the Champions League. That way he gets the big money from both major sources available, as well as the advertising exposure from Premier League and Champions League TV for his sporting goods business, with the minimum spending to achieve it. Far be it from me to suggest I know the mind of the man after all these years of incomprehensible decisions, but if he cocks a snook at the SFA and their attempts to restrict his control of Rangers, all the while upsetting Newcastle fans by making them essentially unable to play in Europe ever again thanks to UEFA rules forbidding owners having two clubs in the same competition then all the better from his point of view. Newcastle fans hoping Rangers’ pain might offer them a way out could well be disappointed.
Any new manager coming into Newcastle will have to deal with a host of problems from the off. Forging a working relationship with the club hierarchy. Learning how to deal with your best players being sold without replacement. An unbalanced squad which can only be updated if someone is sold first. Someone else deciding which new recruits come in. Low pay, high expectations, and pressure they won’t believe until they’ve felt it.
Yet that ignores the positives of the situation. There’s a real opportunity to turn around so much going wrong at the club. The unbalanced squad for instance. We look in dire need of at least one centre-half, possibly another with the news Steven Taylor is out for the season, and a striker who can hold the ball up. The summer signings really haven’t had the impact hoped for from them, though Colback has been a solid addition and Perez the surprise package to end them all. De Jong has been injured the whole season so far since 3 appearances early on, and Riviere and Cabella have looked lost when they’ve played. The latter two are relatively big-money signings with reasonably impressive records in France before they arrived here. Riviere looks to have physical presence which is exactly what we need, but he doesn’t look equipped to play as a lone striker. To make the most of him needs some tactical tweaking Alan Pardew was not prepared to do. A new boss might take a fresh look and see an answer not a problem. If De Jong, Perez, Cisse or anyone else can get near enough to him often enough maybe his fortunes and those of the team could change. Remy Cabella on the other hand has struggled with the physical nature of the Premier League while playing out wide and being required to track back. Neither has he looked particularly impressive with the ball at his feet, looking showy but unproductive so far. It’s not unknown for foreign players to get over that kind of start and find their feet in England though. Again, perhaps a change of tactics would help. To play him through the middle in an advanced role might help him concentrate on the attacking side of his game.
We really can’t lose with those two because in the end if either don’t come up to the mark our new manager will be able to generate significant transfer funds by selling them. I don’t know the terms of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s loan deal but there’s a chance he could be persuaded to return by someone he has more confidence in than Alan Pardew. He’d be a much-needed body at centre-back, more importantly someone with pace at the heart of our defence. If he doesn’t fancy a return, again we get a good fee and a big drop in the wage bill. HBA, Jonas and Ryan Taylor are out of contract at the end of the season and the wages of at least one if not all will be back in the pot to be used for new signings. There is no need to sell anyone we don’t want to if we feel the need to sign new players, maybe not this January but in the summer certainly.
On the subject of our best players being sold, I’m not sure anyone’s been so impressive they’d attract big-money interest, nor that we’d be very inconvenienced if they did go. Who are we talking about anyway? Moussa Sissoko’s been a driving force for us and excellent on and off in recent months, but I don’t think he is irreplaceable in the way Cabaye was. Krul’s current long-term injury means he won’t go anywhere in the next 18 months until he’s proved his fitness. The idea of Cheick Tiote tempting a top European club has looked like a bad joke for years now. The only ones I’d be worried about losing right now would be Perez, Aarons and Janmaat. Perez and Aarons need to play more to attract enough of an offer to make us want to sell and Janmaat is a new signing who’s unlikely to leave anytime soon – though I hear Louis van Gaal, who managed him at the World Cup, is after a right-back at Manchester United so watch this space.
The real positive for anyone coming in is something Alan Pardew either didn’t realise he had in August or just disregarded; the youngsters breaking into the first team. Aarons, Abeid, Ameobi and Perez have all made a real difference to the side when they’ve played though Perez is the only one who’s really played a lot. There is more to come from them all. Adam Armstrong has a real chance too.
I don’t think the point of the high expectations at the club even needs to be addressed seriously. Just the sense of progression over time would be success compared to the stagnation of the last few years. Playing without fear would make such a difference to the side and indirectly to the fanbase. It would be a lot easier than it might seem at first too. Looking at Alan Pardew’s time here, whoever is the new person in charge will know they are virtually unsackable. If Mike Ashley has shown himself to be anything, it’s slow to pull the trigger. A bare minimum of staying clear of relegation worries will guarantee safety from the sack. The kind of manager we need to be after, someone who wants to make their mark on a club, who sees the need for a long-term project to achieve what they want to, will see that as the biggest positive of all.
The ultimate kick in the teeth: Newcastle lose a home derby while chasing the victory, to a winner scored in the last minute of normal time when their local rivals broke up the pitch and caught them with a sucker punch. That makes it sound like a stroke of bad luck which of course isn’t the whole story.
This was a game which initially followed a pattern we’re so familiar with. After a bright start in which the players looked enthusiastic and sharp, the team slowly settled back into a passive mode of play which allowed the opposition the ball. Our midfield sat on the toes of their own back four which meant they didn’t really have any opportunity to get a toehold in the game, either through closing down Sunderland’s midfield or by working the ball forward when we had possession. That possession was inevitably short-lived then. Our lone striker again was hopelessly isolated though the increasingly impressive Ayoze Perez made an infinitely better fist of it than anyone else has this season. After the opening quarter of an hour the game stayed like this until the hour mark.
Gouffran was replaced by Adam Armstrong then, and for about 15 minutes we played a 4-4-2. Two strikers! Playing up front! TOGETHER! I don’t want to go all tactics bore on you at this point, but this was our best spell of the game. Sammy Ameobi began to show he had the beating of Sunderland’s right back, we pushed on, and looked the more likely of the two sides to win the game. Our best chances came in this short period, both Armstrong and Perez managing to shoot straight at the keeper with only him to beat. I’d say it was the most aggressive substitution Pardew had made in a good couple of years, but it would be outstripped mere minutes later.
With 15 to go Cheick Tiote came off to be replaced by Papiss Cisse. From then on I have no idea what formation we were trying to play or who was stationed where. For Kevin Keegan it would have been a gamble. For someone as conservative as Pardew it struck me as a brainstorm, a breakdown in his thinking. At one point, with everyone else pushed forward already, Steven Taylor ran with the ball into midfield leaving Colo one-on-one with Fletcher. I’m not sure if that move breaking down led to their goal, but they certainly broke dangerously and outnumbered us at the back a couple of times before they managed to actually score. There had been warning signs, certainly. It might have come off in our favour as well I suppose. Those are the breaks.
So why did he do it? A major criticism of him has been that he has no Plan B. We sit back, attempt to frustrate and try to nick one. If it doesn’t happen we take the point. But today caution was thrown to the gale-force wind. You will perhaps also be aware of the concept of ‘Pardewing’ someone. This is the idea that whatever good there is in a player who arrives at the club, it will be removed by Pardew. Whatever spark or flair they had and briefly displayed on arrival would disappear within weeks. They would apparently forget themselves what their own strengths were. The thing is, if Pardew was ever good at anything it was sticking to his plan no matter what. It was caution in the face of all temptation to take a team on. And he threw that away today. I think he listened to the criticism, starting to build again so soon after a run he probably felt would buy him some time as it had before. He listened, and decided he was better than people thought he was, that he could do what they said he couldn’t. He was wrong about that today though, he forgot what it was he did, and it didn’t pay off. He effectively Pardewed himself.
I feel a bit churlish, criticizing Pardew for going gung-ho after two years of saying “We need to move the whole team 20 yards up the pitch” at half-time. But when he’s wrong he’s wrong, in whichever direction. A 3rd party who hadn’t really been paying attention might think he couldn’t possibly win on those terms. Attack or Defend, neither is good enough, they might say. That’s not it at all though. Is this team so poor they can’t engage in a normal game of football, track, tackle, move and pass? I think they’re perfectly capable of taking other teams on. The difference is in the definitions used. Pardew seems to think there is only a binary choice between dogged sponge-like defence and suicidal attack, nothing between. To my mind, taking a side on just entails engaging in the cut and thrust of a game, of not being scared to try. There’s an inferiority complex inherent in Pardew’s approach. He doesn’t think our defence is good enough to be solid without our midfield on top of them to clog up the routes for passes through them. He doesn’t think our midfield is good enough man-for-man to dominate opposition. Maybe he’s right in some of that sometimes, but the answer is to improve the team if so, not condemn them to keep on covering up their inadequacies.