For Alan Pardew, it’s surely a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ now. The Newcastle manager looked a broken man on Monday night, undermined by his owner and savaged by the supporters. If there are any Pardew-loyalists still out there, they might point to Jack Colback’s extraordinary late miss as evidence that Newcastle deserved a point. Everyone else will point to Stoke’s dominance and that first half penalty appeal, built of the stoniest wall. The truth is that Newcastle deserved nothing.
Pardew has certainly lost the support of the fans, but curiously he seems to retain the backing of the dressing room. Newcastle were careless and disorganised, but their players are still playing for their manager, they were still pouring forward at the end in search of an equaliser. And yet nothing quite summed up their efforts like the moment in the 94th minute when Moussa Sissokho and Daryl Janmaat were so busy discussing how to close down a throw-in that they failed to realise Stoke had already taken it.
And that’s what really damages Pardew: The contrast between the soft-headed incompetence of this Newcastle side and the well-drilled urgency of the Newcastle team that finished fifth in 2012. But that was over two years ago and they have lost exactly half of all their league games since then. In their last 14 matches, they have lost ten and won only once.
They haven’t picked up a single point on the road since March 1. There have been suggestions that this is simply Newcastle’s level and that their supporters should not be so demanding, but if West Ham were on this sort of run, Fleet Street would cracking badges across the back pages and baying for blood.
However, if Mike Ashley believes that this is an issue that can be solved with a simple change of management, he is wrong. Pardew is far from the only problem. There is something rotten at the heart of this football club, a toxicity that seeps through the walls. The supporters are profoundly disillusioned, the staff are fuming at cost-cutting measures. Even the journalists up there, as smart and supportive a press pack as you’ll find in England, are fed up with it all. Newcastle is far from united.
Every club has a soul that must be nourished with something: hope; rhetoric; youth; style. Newcastle are driven by profit and branding. The primary objective of the club seems to be to maintain a holding pattern in the Premier League, buying low and selling high, while using valuable advertising space to publicise the owner’s sportswear firm for free.
There is nothing wrong with balancing the books. Goodness knows, we’d all be jumping on Ashley if he didn’t. It’s also worth noting that under Ashley’s aegis, Newcastle’s finances have stabilised. Nor is there anything wrong with the concept of buying players to sell them at a profit. FC Porto have done it to great effect for years. But FC Porto win things.
Newcastle are the only top division club to have openly admitted that the domestic cups are nothing more than a distraction. Though 2012 proved that it’s not impossible, they are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League without heavy investment. So if you can’t win the league, if you can’t qualify for Europe and you’re not trying to win the domestic cups, what are you trying to do?
Newcastle’s supporters, like most supporters, want to see exciting football. If they can’t see exciting football, they’ll settle for intelligent football. At the moment, they have neither. But more than that, the fans want to know that there’s just a chance that they might have some fun at some point. Without fun, without ambition, without a sliver of a chance that you might get a day out at Wembley, what is the point of any of this?
Pardew is failing at Newcastle and if he is sacked this week, it would hardly be an unjustifiable decision. But until Ashley can convince the supporters that they are supporting a club and not a balance sheet, the discontent will continue to simmer.
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