Sunderland’s first victory at St James’ Park in 13 years represents a number of jarring realities; not only that their derby record up until now was quite poor, but perhaps more poignantly, it underscores what has been an appalling season at Newcastle United.
The case for Pardew’s head presents itself quite clearly: the most defeats at home in a single season in the club’s Premier League history, three successive FA Cup third round exits to lower league opposition, mistaken persistence in the Ba/Cisse partnership, playing the left footed Davide Santon at right back, playing Mike Williamson at all and of course, hovering precariously above relegation with a team full of top six players.
But, the function of this piece is not to vilify Pardew (benching Ben Arfa takes care of that); rather, it seeks to illustrate wider problems within what is English football’s longest running soap opera. The BBC did not axe Byker Grove to concentrate on a younger audience; it was because Newcastle’s morbid drama was ultimately more enticing; and certainly the latest episode was one the Geordies won’t be forgetting for a while.
Economics, or rather economizing, has been the theme of owner Mike Ashley’s tenure at Newcastle. Sensible spending and an ode to the Arsenal model have seen Newcastle become one of the most financially stable clubs in the league. The fact they had to get relegated first is beside the point.
In any case, nothing should be taken away from what Mike Ashley has done for the club. But what is that exactly? 12th, 13th, 18th, promotion, 12th, fifth and what is surely to be another bottom-half finish this term. The mountain ranged line graph of Newcastle’s league performance is hardly one that speaks stability; and I’m still not entirely convinced they’ve spent the Andy Carroll money. Newcastle’s finances might be peachy but the performances on the pitch are not.
While some satisfaction could be had in the budget success of last season, built on bargains like Yohan Cabaye and Davide Santon, this short lived placate has bred complacency from the top down. The board wanted to wait to sign Moussa Sissoko in the summer so he’d be on a free transfer, while Newcastle’s rivals invested wisely. Boyhood Toon fan Adam Johnson left Manchester City for Sunderland for a very reasonable £10million last summer. He scored for them today – a bit more impetus and he might have been shooting the other way.
Furthermore, Pardew has stuck with failing tactics and the players’ egos have not been quashed as the shallow squad means the line up is almost automatic with little competition for places. Naturally, Newcastle’s poor league form and injury woes necessitated Sissoko’s early arrival, but even that injection hasn’t stopped Cheick Tiote regarding himself as the North East’s answer to Yaya Toure. He’s really not.
Sadly, Newcastle’s season is not over yet; there is still the issue of Premier League safety to address. And that’s really an indication of how wrong the club have got it this term isn’t it? From Mike Ashley to Mike Williamson, Newcastle have been poor and something needs to be done.
Pardew should go; that much is clear. And before this piece is swarmed with charges of ingratitude or impatience, most likely from southern sympathisers, there are some irrefutable truths that must not be masked by compassion. In 114 games in charge, Pardew has lost 42, just one less than he has won. He has not won a trophy and only finished in the top half once. As for impatience, one might suggest that the 44 years Newcastle fans have been waiting for their next piece of silverware might just be long enough.
As I’ve conceded, however, the manager should not shoulder all of the blame. The board have been similarly ineffective. Stall tactics on Debuchy and Sissoko meant that Newcastle had to solider on through the first half of the season with the likes of Danny Simpson and Gabriel Obertan claiming a starting spot; though short of the investment of a Sheikh, there is no sense in any radical reshuffle in the club hierarchy per se, but lessons on impetus must be learnt. Newcastle have missed out on some top quality players who were indeed available, largely down to an unwillingness to commit financially. It’s a travesty that Loic Remy is playing for QPR.
Indeed, playing staff are not exempt from criticism. It is they who have done the running, or in Jonas Gutierrez’ case, fumbling. There are some players who are just not good enough; Gabriel Obertan springs instantly to mind; while there are others who have grossly under performed, Tim Krul for one. If it is any ironic consolation though, Hatem Ben Arfa’s erratic form might at least guarantee that he won’t be getting that move to PSG after all. Newcastle must sign new players appropriately. Graham Carr’s gems should be accompanied by investment in established talent.
This season has exposed the cracks in Newcastle’s operation; the Tyne-Wear derby has just embellished them.