A promising start, or a worrying trend?
With the Newcastle squad in Portugal and a weekend off, now is a good time to assess the initial impact of the new manager, and with a few days left until the end of the transfer window, what might lay ahead.
By way of background, Hughton was dismissed with the club saying there was a need to go in a different direction, at the helm a manager with more experience than the departed Hughton. There was a lesson on Teesside with the sacking of Southgate, and Boro looking to move in a new direction. They have. The direction has been downwards, from 1 point away from an automatic promotion place, to a couple of places above relegation.
It is worth summarising what the inexperienced manager achieved; the first in Toon history to gain a first time return to the top flight, a record pro rata defensive record, a clean sheet record in a season, the first to be unbeaten at home in all competitions, a record transfer surplus, the best ever win ratio of any Newcastle manager, the first 100+ points season, the first home grown striker developed into an England cap in generations as well as 2 Balkan teenage international squad regulars. Under him, even Shola became a double digit scorer per season striker.
The new manager brings the experience of being sacked from his last 3 positions, leaving 2 clubs in relegation positions, 1 of them already relegated from the Premier League. He has had his successes, 2 fortuitous promotions via playoffs to go with 3 failed attempts. His cup record is quite remarkable, having won the Johnston`s Magnolia Paint Pot with Southampton. His record in the 3rd division is admirable.
The opening press conference was littered with mistakes. Newcastle is a great town, the 930 years of city status ignored. Tribute was paid to Chris Houghton or Howden or whatever his name was. Hughton was once Pardew`s coach at Spurs, so it is easy to forget.
Pardew did, however, promise to "bang on the owner`s door" to release funds to bring in new players. He did promise a new signing by the end of the first week in January. He has clearly been a success, with the only transfers so far being the outbound Wayne Routledge on loan and the making permanent of Ben Arfa`s contract, hopefully fit before the end of the season. Otherwise, plenty of youngsters have gone on loan, reducing the cover available.
He said "In the past I have convinced owners to have faith and trust in me to invest". He is also clearly having his way this time, especially on the craps.
Pardew`s access to the owner, if the Sun is to be believed, is indeed improved over Hughton`s. They were seen, along with Chairman Llambias, in Aspers Casino. Pardew will have been encouraged to see how seriously Ashley takes the value of his contract, having lost in a few rolls of the dice several times Pardew`s pay off in the event of the sack. A cool million disappeared.
When asked what he has brought to the club, Pardew did stress how he has tightened up the defence. The facts speak for themselves. In Hughton`s last 7 games, 11 goals were conceded. In Pardew`s first 7, ignoring the Liverpool match for which he had control for 24 hours previously, that 11 was reduced to 10, including the 3 against 4th division Stevenage.
Hughton`s last 7 games were sacking form, 2 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats. Pardew`s first 7 have been the sort of form to build from, 2 wins, against 2 of the bottom 3 clubs, 3 draws and 2 defeats. Clear progress there then!
Pardew has claimed successes, notably the demolition of his old club, West Ham, and the contribution of Leon Best, scoring a hat trick on his full Premier League debut for Newcastle. The defeats and dropped points have been easily explained as the fault of the players, starting with the goalkeeper`s distribution putting pressure on the team against Manchester City. It is good to know Pardew was not to blame, according to him.
The Stevenage defeat, probably the most humiliating since Newcastle lost against Hereford, was due to the players "not turning up" and being "tired". Nothing to do with the tactics, then, a right sided player on the left wing, narrowing an already narrow pitch, a right sided player at left back and the sending off of a player who, according to pre-match interviews, was not going to play.
Points were dropped with an injury time equalizer at Sunderland. The fault, according to the manager, was players switching off. This was clearly nothing to do with the late replacement of the left winger with a right sided midfielder, who was not in a position to close down the right back whose shot led to the goal. Damn the players!
The latest was at home against Spurs. The goal on this occasion also came in injury time, the scorer a right winger switching to the left. That fateful goal came minutes after the manager changed the shape of the team, withdrawing a left sided striker to the right side of midfield, the area where the goal came from, in a 4-5-1 formation long abandoned by his predecessor. The fault was not down to the manager`s tactics, it was down to the players being too "gung-ho".
So we have a manager who is flawless, the players letting him down. It must be purely coincidence that his last 4 games have seen 3 injury time goals, Last season, Hughton`s Newcastle went through 51 games in all competitions without conceding a single goal in added time.
Things can still change. Safety is almost assured, with a points total ensuring that 1 more win takes the Toon out of reach of the tallies of the 3 relegated teams last season. The 2nd bottom team are yet to visit St James`, the next game being against a lowly Fuham and the following home opponents Arsenal already beaten away. There is also still time for new players to come in before the transfer deadline, after Pardew has seen the results of his door banging.
The big question is are the points lost late in the game the start of a worrying trend, or are they really the results of the previous inexperienced manager, arguably the most successful in Newcastle history, having failed to deliver a squad capable of seeing games out?
The owner has gambled on the experienced replacement, just as he gambled in Aspers. The result may be totally different. Pardew may well be a winner, and that time might come before he is back in charge of a 3rd division side, where his record is genuinely admirable.
It is encouraging to see that Pardew is ambitious, seeking to challenge the top 10, a position that Hughton kept Newcastle in for over 75% of his Premier League tenure. Indeed, the future is bright, the future is Pardew, for the time being anyway.