Three games, three wins. And everything’s alright now, isn’t it? Or so we’re told by our friends in the national press, whose calls of “WE TOLD YOU SO” on Alan Pardew have been building steadily since the Leicester game and reached a crowing crescendo following Wednesday night’s brilliantly unexpected win over Man City in the League Cup. Pardew has been vindicated they say, and those who called for his head should apologise – perhaps for the temerity of caring about their team and having an opinion. I’d take more notice of those making such hay at the expense of Newcastle’s fickle fans if these recent wins had actually changed their opinion. But they all felt the same even when we were capitulating every week. Is it us who refuse to see the evidence in front of our faces or them? If our fans truly were fickle by the way, the best way to prove it would be to sing Alan Pardew’s praises right now.
“Where’s the ‘Pardew Out’ brigade now?” everyone completely unconnected with the club is seemingly obliged to ask at the moment. The thing is, we’re still there. Sitting in the stands watching his team, no, our team. Not everyone feels that way of course, but a sizeable number do and it’ll take more than just a few good results to change our opinion. Are we supposed to forget the years of poor performances, months at a stretch without ideas or inspiration, unable to change a losing formula? In between those months, we’ve had runs of good results before of course. The last one was a year ago, during November & December 2013, when Chelsea, Spurs & Man Utd were all beaten. Before that was 3 wins from 4 immediately following January 2013 panic buys. The time before that was a 6-game winning streak in March/April 2012 which almost fired us to the Champions League, also the last time Pardew achieved anything of note. That is a minimum of 9 months of bleak ineptitude between each episode of stringing 3 or 4 wins together. Forgive us for suspecting that just as in each of those 9 month periods Pardew hasn’t been able to change his losing formula, just as in each good run he hasn’t been able to maintain whatever it was that produced it, again this time he won’t be able to and very soon we will be back to the results and performances of the first seven games of the season.
So how is it that recent results have changed so markedly? To give him some credit, his subs have been largely successful in this most recent run of good form, most obviously against Spurs. The Man City result was influenced by the enthusiasm of fringe players given a chance to show what they could do, and he deserves praise for getting his team selection so right there. Our problem in 2014 has been that Pardew is inflexible, unwilling to change his preferred way of playing. As fans have spent so long bemoaning, there is no Plan B. He can only set up a team to contain the opposition and strike on the break. Against the vast majority of Premier League teams this is unsuccessful, especially at St James’ Park, as they are quite happy to sit back themselves and we are unwilling or unable to push for a breakthrough. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day however. There are teams that his outlook is suited to playing against and they tend to be the better teams in the division who attack Newcastle and give opportunities to attack them in turn without really having to probe and create. It is no coincidence that Newcastle’s better results occur when they have markedly less possession than the opposition, and they look at their most impotent when they are allowed a lot of possession by teams that retreat into their own half upon losing the ball. Neither is it coincidence that Newcastle’s better results are frequently when they play good teams which push on but who for whatever reason don’t quite fire on the day.
I don’t mean to imply Pardew doesn’t deserve credit when we win games. He picks the side, does the team talks, and takes the flak when it goes wrong as it has done more often than not in his time here. So well done when we win a couple of games. If Newcastle can keep it up til the end of the season then, and only then, can Pardew’s defenders truthfully say he’s fought back against his critics.