Newcastle’s abysmal display against Liverpool only strengthens the feeling that the North East club are in more danger than Alan Pardew cares to admit. Sitting five points above the relegation zone with three games left, many people would assume that Newcastle are safe but if their current form continues and the masters of the great escape, Wigan can conjure up yet another miracle, Newcastle could be joining QPR and Reading in the Championship next season. It would be a dramatic turn of events for Pardew who was voted Manager of the Year last season following his team’s impressive fifth placed finish. Now only Roberto Martinez and his team stand between Newcastle and an unwanted reunion with England’s second tier.
Aston Villa’s stunning 6-1 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland has breathed fresh life into their faulting campaign, moving them above Newcastle in the table and rubbing salt into their wounds. Newcastle’s performance at home to Liverpool was described as spiritless and embarrassing by former striker Alan Shearer on MOTD and the worst he has seen. Some may point out that Shearer has seen a lot worse performances than Saturday’s affair, most notably during his fateful spell as Toon boss which ironically ended up in relegation. But the former England front man does have a point in that several players have been posted missing, not just in the last game but on several other occasions this season. Players who should be stepping up to field the responsibilities of pulling the team forward have been found wanting instead. Experienced starters like Steven Taylor and Jonas Gutiérrez have not had the greatest campaigns whilst striker Shola Ameobi inclusion in the squad is questionable having only scored one goal in twenty two domestic games.
Others like Rob Elliot, Mike Williamson, James Perch, Dan Gosling and Vurnon Anita appear to be not up to grade and highlight the inefficiencies that exist in this skeleton bare squad. Yes the first eleven have quality in abundance, right through the spine of team from Krul to Coloccini to Cabaye to Cisse with wonderful support roles performed by Santon, Tiote and Ben Arfa but beyond that Newcastle are a Championship side. Harsh criticism perhaps but true as an extended European run has shown. The statistics don’t lie. 4 wins from 13 games played after a European game, including seven defeats. 13 goals scored and 19 conceded. Key points drop against fellow strugglers like Wigan, Sunderland and Aston Villa have left Newcastle dangling precariously above the drop zone. Newcastle should be able to play two games on the bounce like many Premiership clubs but it would appear that after a short trip to the continent, jetlag got the better of them.
The honest truth is that Newcastle doesn’t have the squad to cope with a multiple tournament attack, especially when injuries to key players hit. Any team losing the likes of Krul, Cabaye and Ben Arfa for large chunks of a campaign would suffer but without adequate cover, Newcastle has really suffered. Reinforcements did arrive in January in the form of Debuchy, Sissoko and Gouffran which helped but by then the damage had been done. Added into this selling your inform striker to Chelsea and having your goal scoring machine from last season misfire (3 goals in the first half of the season, 5 so far in the second half for Cisse) has made life difficult for Alan Pardew. Then there are the youngsters that Pardew has been highly critical of for not being able to step up when needed but chances have been few and far between which is a requirement to making the grade. The truth is that probably Pardew doesn’t believe they, or the likes of Curtis Good, Roman Amalfitano and Haris Vuckic are worth a shot, even if they do. Pardew needs points and performances to keep his job and risking it is just not worth it.
But there is hope in the form of a fresh start and a new season. Newcastle can regroup in the summer, reevaluate and strengthen by sending scout extraordinaire Graham Carr out to see what other gems he can uncover. With no European football next year, Pardew needs to build a squad capable of playing for domestic honours only so will need to buy sensibly as well as clear out those who are not up to the grade. Before he can start this process, Pardew needs to secure Premiership football for the club for next year. To get there all they have to do is pick up enough points in the last three games to stave off relegation and condemn someone else to that fate. With games against QPR, West Ham and Arsenal to come, on paper it looks possible but having only won once away from home all season and two of the three games away from St James, Pardew may need a miracle. If they fail then Pardew might be wishing he hadn’t signed that eight year contract as he faces up to life as a Championship manager once again.