Who would have bet on Newcastle battling out in the top four come late October? Not many people I can assure you, but alas it is the predicament they find themselves in at the moment and as a result of their rather surprise return to prominence Tyneside is buzzing with enthusiasm.
It is probably far too early to suggest that they can maintain such a strong challenge all season, but hopes are high that the Toon can force themselves into contention for a Europa league place with their early charge. To bring the glory days of European football back to St.James’ park must be the ultimate aim of their much maligned owner Mike Ashley and the man he placed in charge of the club almost a year ago.
Under Ashley’s ownership Alan Pardew endured a rather hostile beginning to his reign as Manager. Having been named the man to replace the very popular Chris Hughton he was immediately met with uncertainty and an air of disillusionment from the fans.
Hughton before him had successfully guided the side back to the Premier League and had safely seen them to a mid-season position of mid-table solidity. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the league table may not exactly be awe-inspiring, but the security that comes with it was exactly what the football club and it’s fans had been craving. Sadly for Hughton, Mike Ashley was one of the only people associated with the club that weren’t contented by this and saw fit to relieve him of his duties.
This unsurprisingly called Ashley’s loyalty and decision making into question. He was once again lambasted by the press and the club’s fans for his actions. Rather unfairly his new man at the helm, Alan Pardew, then had to assume the unenviable position of being one of the faces of what was at the time seen as negative change.
Not only had Pardew been asked to take on the role of living up to Hughton’s great record at the club, but he was soon fighting fires on the media frontline amidst the Andy Carroll transfer saga on January ‘Deadline Day’. If he was unsure before he took the role just how passionate the club’s fans were, then he was left in little doubt after this tough early period. The fans were angry and disillusioned with events that were unfolding before their eyes and Pardew was one of a few major channels for their understandable angst.
In spite of the sale of their talismanic striker, Newcastle continued to impress in the second half of the season and ultimately Pardew had maintained their mid-table position right up to the season’s finish. Having managed to pick up some admirers along the way, the first few months of his reign had gone just about as well as could be hoped.
However, Pardew’s role as a figure head for the club led to further personal strife as the powers that be decided to part company with three other key members of his first XI. Skipper Kevin Nolan, the perpetually controversial Joey Barton and classy left back Jose Enrique were all allowed to leave either on free transfers or for relatively small fees, which again calling into question the ambition of the club.
Fans were once again left fraught with nerves going into this season having sold big and seemingly failed to bring in proven quality. As it turns out though, such caution and worry was rather unnecessary. Pardew has thus far led the club with admirable dignity and at present has them in the mix fighting for genuine success. How he has managed to lead this current squad to where they currently reside is unclear really, but he is worthy of high praise for his achievements to date.
Amidst the worries about a lack of depth and real star quality, the likes of the previously rather unknown Yohan Cabaye have stood tall since joining the club in a low-profile summer deal. Cabaye has looked every bit a top class Premier League performer since his move, demonstrating great fight and tenacity coupled with a decent passing range. Fellow summer signing Demba Ba has also played his way to the forefront of Newcastle’s early assault on the top of the table with a surprisingly decent goal tally.
While the low-key signings have exceeded the expectations of many, so too have the players who were already on the books. In midifeld Cheik Tiote has continued to build upon an encouraging first season in the Premier League and has been supported by the efforts of ‘local lad done good’ Steven Taylor and new Skipper Fabricio Coloccini at the back. With their less celebrated players too coming out of the shadows it is little surprise that optimism appears to be creeping back into the stands at St.James’.
On Thursday evening BBC Newcastle’s radio show ‘Total Sport’ featured an hour long phone-in with Alan Pardew and his time in the studio provided interesting insight into his rather surprising success so far. Pardew insisted that his strength as a manager is “getting the best out of players” citing the likes of Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand as past successes under his tutelage.
Another moment of intrigue in the phone-in came when the presenters asked Pardew “how [he had] convince[d] Ashley to give [him] the job”. Pardew answered “I convinced him that I could bring success”. Exactly what success is to Ashley is a little unclear given his decision to release Chris Hughton when the overwhelming majority of the footballing world struggled to see why, but this answer from Pardew tells you a lot about the man.
He is humble and was willing to offer sympathy to Hughton who he said had done a “top job” for Newcastle, but he is also immensely optimistic and confident in his ability as a manager. Many have expressed an opinion that Pardew has had some hard luck in management, but he himself seems far more interested on his future endeavours and how he can continue to take the club forward.
I must admit that I was expecting Newcastle to struggle this season, as were many I might add. Pardew though has always impressed me. I agree with the many people who think he has at times been dealt a rough hand, particularly given his role in returning West Ham to the league and then to a showpiece game against Liverpool in the FA Cup final, which by the way, they were very unlucky to lose.
Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle have managed to offload the likes of Barton and Nolan at the right time and if Tiote and Cabaye can continue to inspire the side all the way to European contention come May then Pardew will have worked a minor miracle. If this is to happen then they will need to continue to make hay in the ‘easier’ games and strengthen their attacking and defensive options in January, but if they do this there is no reason why they and their Manager can’t continue to surprise a few people.