Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Love Will Tear us Apart

It's about love, it's about love and putting cover on each other, and they did that. Fantastic.

Alan Pardew spoke passionately about his players love for one another after one of the best Newcastle United performances in his four year stay on Tyneside - that 2-1 victory over a rumoured unbeatable Chelsea.

Yet love was something Alan Pardew had not received since he stunningly became Newcastle United Manager in 2010. A dislike verging on pure hatred in recent times, a lack of love from supporters that seemingly has led to his equally stunning departure. 

Protest: Alan Pardew has long endured the frustration of Newcastle supporters

I have been disappointed for Pardew at times, been equally disappointed by him at others. But what disappoints me most is that a Premier League Manager would leave Newcastle United for a relegation scrap with Crystal Palace. This is a really hard pill to swallow and you would hope would be a real eye-opener for Mike Ashley. 

As for Pardew, can you really blame him as a human being for walking away? I've always openly described the abuse he has received as over the top; over-spilled passion getting far too personal. He goes to somewhere where he has respect, he has backing. He goes home to his family. 

He was never going to win at Newcastle. A brief fling aside as he marvellously led the club to 5th in 2012, Pardew was much maligned from the word go. Not surprising at all, given that he never crossed supporters minds as a replacement for Chris Hughton. Of course it became very clear why he was appointed. Perhaps "Yes-Man" isn't the fairest way to describe it, but certainly Pardew was more than happy to work under the Ashley regime. 

Surprise: Nobody anticipated Pardew's appointment in 2010

Pardew has had to be the face of his owners actions, the man in the firing line time after time as Ashley frustrated fans. He lost Andy Carroll, had his desire for building on 5th ignored, was embarrassed by Joe Kinnear, and lost Yohan Cabaye with no replacement given to him. 

Time after time it was he that took the flak, he that faced the questions that he must have wanted to ask himself. Suggestions that he wouldn't be backed once again in the market after he had publicly expressed the need for two new recruits may also have added to the misery. Perhaps he just didn't want to have to be the face of more January despair.

Goodbye Cabaye: Losing star player kick started a dreadful 2014

It's been good, bad, and ugly under Pardew. 2014 has been utterly dreadful and after a second successive 4-0 defeat at Southampton it was almost evident that nothing had changed between the two drubbings, despite change in personnel. Recent impressive victorious have probably papered over the cracks that suggest Pardew has taken Newcastle United as far as he could.

The Ugly: Pardew had some notable flashpoints as Newcastle United Manager

His departure is largely celebrated on Tyneside, but will it be something that supporters live to regret? Newcastle fans don't expect year on year trophies, just a football club and a team that mirrors the 52,000 seater cathedral that has housed legends of the game. We can dream of De Boer and Klopp, we should really have such links, but in reality would they ever cross Mike Ashley's mind?

Remember "Open Your Eyes, the Problem is Wise"? A Manager with polar opposite popularity to Alan Pardew, an institution of Newcastle United driven out by the Sports Direct mogul. Kevin Keegan couldn't do it, Alan Shearer wasn't allowed to do it - if Alan Pardew has given up on it, who do we really expect to walk through the door?

Ashley Out: Fans have long suffered Mike Ashley

The answer, sadly, is that we don't have a clue. Newcastle United is a business to Mike Ashley and it would be a major surprise if he didn't plump for somebody who will pick up the mantle from the beleaguered Pardew and continue operating the Ashley way. It almost makes me laugh that even the Manager has been sold on for profit. 

The club needs to show ambition; not to settle for 10th, not to play down the cups, not to always sell the best players and frustrate in the transfer market. They need to galvanise supporters, get the best out of talented players, and head into 2015 with far greater fire than 2014. A positive appointment would get the ball rolling, but does anyone really expect one? There is almost nothing that surprises supporters now.

Don't go Sissoko: Newcastle must keep hold of key players to move forward

Statistics say otherwise but Pardew has done a good job in part given all too prevalent circumstances. Of course he has caused his own unacceptable problems at times that have only fuelled the fire of unrest. There have been some unforgettable results, for good and bad, and games and goals that will live long in the memory. But it is time to move on, to move forward. Few will be sad to see him go but what I will say though, is be careful what you wish for. Because as we know all too well at Newcastle United, it just might not be a happy ending.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Newcastle United - Trust in this Squad

After a memorable fortnight on Tyneside, Sam Winter reflects on the upturn of form and the emergence of squad depth at Newcastle United.

The best squad in his time here he said. But few would have agreed with Alan Pardew's statement as Newcastle languished and toiled in the opening exchanges this season. Yet in the space of 15 days the gloom has been lifted and replaced with optimistic excitement.

Still alive: Alan Pardew has marshalled Newcastle's upturn in form

A deserved win at home to Leicester has been followed by three fantastic victories against the league's Champions League chasers - including that wonderful cup night at the Etihad against the holders. Suddenly Newcastle are now as close to the top 4 as the bottom 3 and in the Quarter Final of a domestic cup for the first time since 2006.

The change in performance has been almost unrecognisable to the early struggles that had Pardew seemingly on his last thread. A couple of welcome Cisse braces eased the pain but it has been the sudden emergence of squad depth, something thought of as non existent just weeks ago, that has really got Newcastle motoring.

Nobody has epitomised Newcastle's upturn in fortunes more than Gabriel Obertan. First name on the team sheet after an assist at Swansea, the much maligned Frenchman was the hero in Newcastle's first league win of the season. Against City he was Newcastle's outlet, keeping the ball superbly and threatening City, drawing fouls and showing the quality we've barely seen in his 3 years on Tyneside. The disappointment at his injury blow says it all about his improvement. 

Gabriel Obertan was flying before cruel injury blow

Similarly to Obertan is Sammy Ameobi; someone often publicly lamented by his Manager for threatening to waste enormous talent. He has been excellent in recent weeks, and that goal at Spurs will have done him the world of good. And what about Rolando Aarons, how good is it to have the 18 year old back in contention. How good can this lad be? Bursting past world class players, getting the crowd on their feet. And he has an eye for goal.

My favourite inclusion at the weekend was Mehdi Abeid. Quietly magnificent in the cup, efficient in thwarting the might of Yaya Toure. There wasn't a player you could fault that night, but Abeid certainly caught his Manager's eye most - and proceeded to better Steven Gerrard 3 days later. Suddenly he's a key player; another initially thought to be on their way out in pre season. He showed in his loan spell at Panathinaikos that he has the ability - now his chance has come to really shine at his parent club. All of a sudden there's huge competition for places in the engine room, Vurnon Anita finding out more than most by not making the last two squads. 

Ready Mehdi: Abeid has suddenly become a key player in the midfield

Moussa Sissoko has been magnificent and highly praised by all corners of the game. Deservedly so, the powerhouse finding some consistency at long last; demonstrating his considerable ability with driving runs that have led to winning goals in each of the last two league games, plus one for himself in Manchester. He has been Newcastle's main threat of late and his form has been more welcome than surprising - unlike the main beneficiary of his service.

The Beast: Moussa Sissoko is showing his best form

As Emmanual Riviere struggled with the goalscoring burden, it was like answered prayer seeing Papiss Cisse return to action. The Number 9 rescued draws, but a once unknown from Tenerife has been stealing victories. Ayoze Perez is another remarkable find from Graham Carr, allegedly snubbing La Liga giants to head to England. Far from ready for regular Premier League hustle and bustle, the 21 year old has however shown a deadly eye for goal. A brilliant header at Spurs followed by a poachers instinct at St James' Park and Newcastle now have goalscoring options too. Cisse will rightly continue to lead the line, but what a great option to have off the bench.

Made in Tenerife: Ayoze Perez is fast becoming a goalscoring hero on Tyneside

Newcastle's recent defending has been a stark contrast in recent games to that of August and September. The capitulation at Southampton and the domination against Liverpool couldn't be further apart. People have been quick to mention Mike Williamson's absence, but it has been his replacement that deserves a huge chunk of credit.

Steven Taylor has taken a great deal of flak in the last couple of years, most of which I can't understand. Perhaps the doom and gloomers have been dismayed by his continuous show of passion in dire times, or him being the player to come out and face the media after another thrashing. Fitness and injuries have always been his issue but there is no doubting that Newcastle's best centre half pairing has always been Taylor and Coloccini during Pardew's reign.

It was Taylor and the skipper who had that fantastic defensive record as Newcastle were unbeaten until this time in 2011 when Taylor's Achilles went at home to Chelsea. The pair momentarily steadied a sinking ship the following season with the local lad earning an England call up in the process. And it is the two of them now that lead a Newcastle side who have conceded one goal in four fantastic matches. It's no coincidence. 

Taylor and Coloccini have shown why they're Newcastle's best defensive pairing

Coloccini's performances have also improved since Taylor's introduction, perhaps a greater confidence in his partner than in Williamson. The Captain was at his most enjoyable best against Liverpool, who just could not find a way through. Daryl Janmaat is improving all the time and put in a great display down the right. Paul Dummett was outstanding at City, and earned deserved praise from his Manager for stifling Raheem Sterling on Saturday.

And what about Ryan Taylor. What a story, what a man. Lumps in the throat after the final whistle at Eastlands, a true hero - and wasn't he excellent in his 90 minute return.

The biggest pinch of positivity I felt was an hour before kick off when I read Pardew's team for the Liverpool game. The fact that he was actually using the squad, rewarding the form players no matter what status or age. There was no "name" player like Anita taking the place of Abeid, and the frustratingly immovable Gouffran also not getting a sniff of action all of a sudden. Perhaps his omission will give him the opportunity to re-energise and find some form. Remy Cabella had a lovely cameo and is slowly but surely showing improvement, fighting for his place.

Ryan Taylor's emotional return means further competition for places

That's what it's all about, fighting to earn your spot. Competition for places. The Manager's headache. These young fringe players have earned their starting berth, now keep it. Keep the regular first-team players on the sidelines, keep the standards high. Alan Pardew has never really used the squad when he should have in the past, now it's his time to maintain this spirit and this healthy competition for the black and white shirt.

It's not a time to get carried away, but Newcastle have at least turned a corner. It's certainly a time to be positive, to look upwards rather than down. It's a time to kick on and show that beating Spurs, Manchester City, and Liverpool was no fluke. It's time to trust in this squad, and keep moving up the Premier League.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Right Place, Right Time, Number Nine

Forgotten man Papiss Cisse saved Newcastle's blushes against Hull City last weekend. Sam Winter analyses the strikers time on Tyneside and his timely return to action

Always looking forward. A moving tribute to Jonas Gutierrez, a statement of intent from a returning Newcastle United hero.

Papiss Demba Cisse stepped off the substitutes bench as Newcastle United fell two goals behind against Hull City at St James' Park. Not deterred, the Senegalese forward rolled back a couple of years by confidently rescuing a point for the home side, and possibly rescuing his Managers' job - for now.

Always Looking Forward: Cisse is back and his timing couldn't be better

As Newcastle toiled once again in front of goal, and confidence levels threatened to plummet further, it was somewhat encouraging to see Cisse stripped and ready for action. A player short on confidence for some time, you'd have been forgiven for fearing disappointment. But Cisse was notably fired up, a far cry from the bit part figure that graced the same touchline last season. 

And boy did he deliver when he entered the fray. Such instinct. Right place, right time.

Few were aware of Papiss Demba Cisse when he arrived from Freiburg for a fee of £9 million in the January of 2012. But we were all well and truly aware of the newest Number 9 after he smashed home a memorable debut goal, assisted by his friend Jonas. Get well soon Spiderman.

Arrived: Cisse made an instant impact on Tyneside

Newcastle were moving along nicely at that point, but Cisse took them to another level. He scored 13 goals in his 14 games that season - goals with both feet, goals with his head, goals that defied physics.

Confidence oozed out of Cisse, he was unstoppable. The new Andy Cole they said. Would Newcastle be able to keep him? A move to Real Madrid was even rumoured. And why not, he just couldn't stop scoring. What a player to take into a full season. 

Defying logic: Cisse's jaw-dropping moment at Stamford Bridge

Or so we all thought.

One of my major gripes with Alan Pardew's tenure is his ill-fated attempt at keeping Demba Ba happy and on Tyneside as his £7 million release clause refused to go away. Pardew sacrificed the effectiveness of his team to appease one man. Newcastle were excellent with Ba wide-left of the lethal Cisse; with the former displaying his pace, skill, and technical qualities as the latter used his incredible goal-scoring instinct. 

Fatal changes: Pardew made Cisse move aside for Demba Ba in 2012 - it didn't work

Pardew shifted Cisse to wide-right in 2012/13 and to say he struggled is an understatement. Cisse is not a winger, he's not a Number 10. He is a goalscorer who must be the furthest forward central striker in the team if you want him to deliver. Newcastle toiled,  Cisse only had three league goals to his name by January. Demba Ba left for Chelsea.

Pardew's misuse and mistreatment of Papiss Cisse has been the driving force behind any lack of form from the striker. Goalscorers thrive on confidence, and when you are clearly viewed as second best in the eyes of your Manager each game gets harder and harder to score in. It happened again with Loic Remy last season, Cisse again left playing second fiddle to a man the club desperately wanted to convince to stay. 

Second best again: Cisse found himself behind Loic Remy in the pecking order last season

Newcastle were brilliant at Cardiff in a 4-3-3 with Remy showing his best coming in off the left flank. Cisse played through the middle, the ball just not dropping for him to get a goal. But his movement allowed his teammates to create openings for themselves. 

Cisse's goals would surely come but he wasn't given the chance. Newcastle went reserved with Remy leading the line alone, Cisse further ousted by Shola Ameobi - another dent in the confidence which was painfully visible as he tried so hard to score when given the rare chance.  

Despite a regular lack of faith shown in him, Cisse has never hidden on the pitch, never shied away from a goalscoring opportunity. Notable misses in games last season stick in the mind - a crucial miss against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup and a bit of a sitter at home to Spurs for example - but he will always come back and try again.

When Ba left Cisse's goals kept Newcastle in the Premier League. Stoppage time winners against Stoke and Fulham under extreme pressure, a goal at Villa Park in a rare away win. His European exploits took Newcastle to the fringes of the Europa League semi-finals. And he wasn't half unlucky at times - wrongly disallowed goals against Metalist, West Ham, and (fatally) Sunderland setting Newcastle back. 

Always on time: Cisse's late goals kept Newcastle in the big time in 2012/13

When Remy was injured last season and Newcastle in dreadful form he stepped up again. Another late winner at home to Crystal Palace when chance after chance went begging for him all game. He didn't stop believing, didn't throw in the towel. 

For too long Cisse has been second fiddle to somebody else. He has shown when given the consistent opportunity that he deserves to be the main man up front. Whenever he is called upon when Newcastle need him most he delivers. He is the most natural finisher the club has had since he joined, since Alan Shearer. He's taken United to Europe and kept them in the top flight. The man for all occasions. 

32 goals in 75 starts is a decent return for a Premier League striker in modern times. Papiss Cisse has nothing to prove as a goalscorer, he just needs to be given a run in the team and to be made to feel like a true Number 9 should feel - wanted, needed

Main man: Pardew must utilise Cisse to change Newcastle's fortunes.

Cisse's goalscoring return last weekend could be the lift Newcastle United need. They have the personnel to create more chances this season, they just need the right man on the end of them. Alan Pardew was right in saying that too much burden has been placed on Emmanual Riviere's shoulders.  Papiss Cisse can carry the burden, will carry the burden, and hopefully will fire Newcastle United back up the Premier League table. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

From X-Factor to Ex-Factor: The demise of Hatem Ben Arfa

Following Hatem Ben Arfa's much publicised exit from Newcastle United, Sam Winter looks at where it all went wrong for the fans' favourite.

"There is magic in his feet, it is his world when he is on the ball. Not many players in this division can score goals like that. It was very clever. There are not many blessed with that kind of talent."

Alan Pardew, waxing lyrical about his prized possession in 2012 following one of the greatest goals witnessed at St James' Park. That prized possession was of course Hatem Ben Arfa. Newcastle had once again won, spearheaded by the brilliant Frenchman, and Champions League qualification was a real possibility. 

Star man: Ben Arfa was a genius at best, a prized asset of his Manager

 Fast forward 29 months and Ben Arfa wears a different set of stripes, Newcastle play a less scintillating brand of football, and Alan Pardew's popularity is at an all time low. What rubber-stamped Ben Arfa's unpopular departure we might never fully know. However what cannot be denied is that there has been a serious decline in Ben Arfa's performance, and his relationship with Alan Pardew.

The Best of Hatem Ben Arfa

"Hatem’s very focused about being a professional footballer. A lot of players could learn from him in terms of that – although he’s still a maverick. You never know quite what he’s going to do. He gives the team an X-factor, which is important.” 

At his best Hatem Ben Arfa was a magician, unplayable, drawing comparisons with Lionel Messi. He would frighten defenders with his unpredictability, wriggle out of any situation, and completely change gear and burst past all who tried to stop him. He got into endless chance-creating positions and his form propelled Newcastle to another level in their 2012 Champions League chase. 

He destroyed West Brom and Liverpool notably, he dug Newcastle out of sticky patches on regular occasions - putting Sunderland on the back foot at St James', majestically equalising against Blackburn in the FA Cup, and blasting important goals against the likes of Everton, Aston Villa and, more recently, Fulham in front of his adoring faithful. 

Magician: Ben Arfa saved his best for the adoring faithful at St James'

His best moment was that breathtaking goal against Bolton Wanderers at St James' Park; skill, pace, power, poise, and balance - one of the greatest goals Tyneside had seen. Once again it was his magic that got Newcastle going against a dogged Bolton side. 

At this height of his form Ben Arfa was praised by his manager for his "immaculate" focus and professionalism. Praised for eventually buying in to the team ethic; chipping in with tackles, tracking back, winning the odd header. The way he carried and kept of hold of the ball gave his team-mates a rest but also a platform to build attacking intent.

And he thrilled the fans. St James' Park adored him, demanded him when he wasn't playing, and the volume would increase several notches at his mere presence. His best moments will always be remembered on Tyneside, that's how good he could be.

The Worst of Hatem Ben Arfa

On reflection, Hatem Ben Arfa's deserved call-up to the France squad for Euro 2012 was perhaps a turning point in his Newcastle United career. A much publicised bust-up in the French camp involving Ben Arfa saw his "enfant terrible" tag rear its head. 

Ben Arfa returned to Newcastle noticeably unfit, missing pre-season completely but drove Newcastle to an opening day victory over Spurs and sending a scorching equaliser into the top corner against Aston Villa. All seemed well but Ben Arfa's lack of fitness caught up with him and injury took him out of a Newcastle side desperate for his invention. 

Ben Arfa struggled for fitness in 2012/13, but still provided some magic moments

On a fleeting return he scored a beauty at Craven Cottage but was injured again, not returning until March with Newcastle in and out of a relegation battle. Aside from some flashes of skill and a crucial penalty at Loftus Road, Ben Arfa was never the same again.

His fitness has always been an issue in parts, not helped of course by an awful broken leg. But since returning at the start of 2012/13 there have been niggling injuries and questions of fluctuating weight. He has never once looked like the lean, sharp, lethal Hatem Ben Arfa that performed so wonderfully at the back end of the previous campaign.

Which raises the issue of professionalism.

Alan Pardew has very often praised Ben Arfa for his professionalism - his improved professionalism. His improved work-rate, teamwork, tracking back, dedication. A constant public arm-round-the-shoulder. Praise was certainly merited, but Pardew made sure that he mentally mothered his prized possession to remind him of his required duties as a team player.

Rash: Ben Arfa lost focus, and his place in the team

But the professionalism waned; Ben Arfa became rash, erratic. He became increasingly careless in possession, a danger to the team - dispossessed before opposition goals. Too often he blazed shots into the stands, perhaps blinded by an eagerness to please, and made bad choices in bad areas. Too often he was hauled off at half-time, too often deservedly so.

Who is to blame?

Many people blame Alan Pardew, and naturally so. The most creative talent on Newcastle United books not getting a look in, not allowed to train with the first team, not playing in front of his adoring crowd. The biggest frustration was the silence, no explanation of why. 

Pardew's back was against the wall after the sale of Yohan Cabaye. Let down by the hierarchy his annoyance spilled alarmingly at Hull. Perhaps he retreated into a damage limitation mode, afraid of risking the adventurous approach of Ben Arfa. If he did, it didn't work.

Rumours of a bust-up between Ben Arfa and a frustrated Pardew seem to be a factor. Another poor cameo from the equally frustrated Frenchman. However Ben Arfa appeared again at Stoke, which reportedly was the final straw for many senior players including Fabricio Coloccini. He has never appeared in the senior shirt again. It is a far cry from the days of Ben Arfa being Pardew's favourite son.
Further issues of form and fitness blighted Ben Arfa's final season on Tyneside

Still the crowd call for Ben Arfa and direct anger at Pardew. But the Manager cited the players lack of professionalism when quizzed on a reported pre-season overweight fine. 

Whoever is to blame, the mercurial Frenchman never hit consistent heights that his potential craved. We have to remember that Ben Arfa only got regular starts in a blinding final third of 2011/12; he couldn't get an extended run in a team that had maintained a lofty position all season. Newcastle's best spell last season also lacked the winger. There never even seemed to be any solid talk of a contract extension during his spell at the club, unlike his team-mates around him.

Ben Arfa's inconsistency was incredibly frustrating. Early on last season he was "unplayable" at Villa but barely two weeks later was atrocious at Everton. His impressive displays became all too rare and when Newcastle really needed him most, following Cabaye's au revoir, he failed to deliver all too much. It reached a point where his appearance from the bench in games Newcastle led last season actually filled me with dread; that he would lose the ball in a key area with a lead so precious at stake.

45 league starts in a very inconsistent three or so years on Tyneside underline why Hatem Ben Arfa will never reach the heights of the greats he has been compared with. He will never reach the heights that so many were convinced he would. We will all be wondering "what if?" in years to come.

Time to move on

Now he is gone, and there is nothing that can be said or done to bring him back. It remains to be seen how he will do at Hull City. I imagine there will be flashes of brilliance, of course there will, and that will hurt Newcastle fans. But I would be very surprised and disappointed if he ever nears the best form that wooed St James Park. 

Time to go: Ben Arfa has gone, but he will forever be a favourite on Gallowgate

Whether its his fault, Pardew's fault, Mike Ashley's fault, or whoever's, no single player is bigger than Newcastle United. And if the Manager and several first team players were against his inclusion, then that is enough for me. Ben Arfa's open letter on departure and his halted "meet and greet" in the summer suggests a last ditch plea to fans from a man knowing it was all too late. 

Players' come and go, but Newcastle United lives on. Farewell Hatem Ben Arfa, a Newcastle United favourite indeed, but a Newcastle United player no more. Those fleeting, fantastic memories will live long. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Back of the Net?

Newcastle United are yet to score a true goal of their own in the opening weeks of the season but Sam Winter believes that it won't be long before the Toon Army are celebrating hitting the back of the net once again.

Newcastle United have done enough in the opening competitive fixtures of the 2014/15 season to suggest that regular goals will not be far away.

A goalless start for The Magpies, but Riviere will get chance to get up and running

As we all know, goals win games and the fact that the inadvertent John Egan has scored the only goal registered to Newcastle United does hint at minor concern. Yet what we all need to remember is that the club was in a very similar situation this time last term: goalless in the league and into the next round of the Capital One Cup. However the level of performance on the pitch between now and then couldn't be more different.

Far cry

Rather than getting run ragged at Eastlands and looking like conceding every time Manchester City touched the ball, this season's opener saw a spirited and skillful Newcastle side more than match the Champions in key areas of the pitch in a game that frankly looked like it could go either way. But when it came down to it quality won through, with City taking both their only chances in the game. If you want to compete against the big boys in this league, you must take your chances because, as Newcastle and even Liverpool have discovered, City WILL take theirs.

Much praise was reserved for Newcastle after that defeat, and much needed optimism took us to Villa Park. More clear-cut chances would surely be created, and Newcastle surely would score. Alas, such openings were well and truly created, but Newcastle did not take a single one. A hugely frustrating result for the travelling Toon Army, the net somehow not bulged. But again, large portions of the performance were impressive, and the goals are on the horizon.

Frustration: Newcastle were unable to take their chances at Villa Park

No room for negativity

Negativity has soon set in with sections of the fans, worried by the lack of goals to celebrate in the opening games. Many have jumped straight back on Alan Pardew's back, yet nobody can really say that there hasn't been a vast improvement in performance levels; the Manager citing the most impressive possession statistics in his tenure. Even from set pieces we look far more dangerous, Daryl Janmaat almost a beneficiary against Aston Villa.

Then there are those who point towards a lack of a "big name" striker arriving at St James' this summer to fill the Loic Remy shaped hole up front. I am convinced that Pardew would like one more striker but I agree with him when he says that, unless they are better than Riviere and Cisse, there is little point in spending big money. The Club's transfer policy has been more than frustrating at times but they have got it right this summer, and grabbing a Remy or a Lacazette would be a huge slab of icing on the cake. But if it's not to be then I believe that there is enough fire-power to lead Newcastle to a good season.

Newcastle have been frustrated in their permanent pursuit of Loic Remy

Emmanuel Riviere has doubters already but I can't understand why. He has barely had a sniff. A half chance at Villa and a couple of look-ins against City; where he showed great strength and power, if perhaps a little too eagerness to score - rushing his attempts on goal. In pre-season he showed he can score goals and looks like he will take to English football well sooner rather than later. Bundling Kompany and Toure off the ball was a decent start.

Riviere's lack of goalmouth action suggests a lack of service but the chances squandered by his team-mates at Villa will hopefully mean a big chance falls his way this weekend - and hopefully he will put it away and get up and running in a Newcastle shirt. 

Time to sharpen up

I believe that the lack of goals so far comes down simply to sharpness. There was a number of occasions against Villa where the wrong pass was made in the final third, the wrong option taken - a harder route to goal. All players across the league are still finding their feet in the new season, regardless of how well some are playing already. More games brings added sharpness, and Newcastle look to have the players to really hurt teams once it clicks into place. Remember there is still Siem De Jong to really bed into the side.

Alan Pardew has mentioned that Remy Cabella is perhaps trying too hard, similarly to Riviere. You can see that in his game, a lack of composure at times, a desperation to impress adoring fans. There is no doubting Cabella's potential, he has shown enough in flickers to suggest he will have some magical moments in a black and white shirt. Once he relaxes and gets the games under his belt, he will show what he is all about.

Trying too hard? Remy Cabella has been eager to impress

Crystal Palace visit Tyneside this weekend, a new Manager to impress. I can only see them doing what they did last season and "parking the bus". Hopefully Newcastle have enough creativity and that all important fire-power to take the 3 points. 

International recognition

Finally I would like to congratulate Jack Colback on his England call up. It almost feels like a brand new experience; a Newcastle United player in Roy Hodgson's fold. Colback has been a breath of fresh air - a local lad leading the charge in the engine room, flying the Geordie flag. There's not enough English players involved at the club, let alone local lads, so let's hope Jack can continue his excellent start to life back at home. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Year of The Pardew

2013/14 couldn't have finished sooner for Newcastle United. A dismal end to a promising campaign brought a cloud of uncertainty over Manager Alan Pardew. Here Sam Winter explains how the new season is a defining one for the Toon boss.

Newcastle Manager Alan Pardew knows that 2014/15 is his most important yet

2014/15 is a defining season for Alan Pardew as Newcastle United Manager. No longer beleaguered by short-comings in the transfer market, Pardew has the tools at his disposal to prove his managerial credentials and drive Newcastle United up the Premier League.

Our one-time LMA Manager of the Year couldn't have signed off last term on a more sour note; a quite embarrassing, how can I put it, hounding from the fans pouring out of St James' Park in the 69th (or was it the 60th?) minute of a 3-0 victory over Cardiff City. I won't delve too far into my personal take on the "protest", but I will say that, regardless of any ill-feeling toward the upper echelons of a football club, it is imperative to support the 11 wearing the Newcastle badge on the pitch for all of the 90+ minutes of play.

It had indeed been a funny old season for Pardew. A second consecutive summer of frustration on the transfer front - not helped by a bumbling idiot called Joe leaving us all fearing the worst. Yohan Cabaye's head was turned on the eve of a 4-0 thrashing at the Etihad and the most dreadful of 0-0 draws with West Ham at St James' followed. Ironically it was the now exiled Hatem Ben Arfa who got the season up and running, the little genius that he can be. By Christmas we were 6th, by May we were plain sick.

Yohan Cabaye disrupted Newcastle's start to 2013/14; his eventual sale effectively ending a once promising campaign

The debacle of Joe Kinnear was doomed from the start; Mike Ashley only realising his mistake after catalyst Cabaye was not replaced in January. Heads dropped all round, and once again Pardew was left to face the backlash alone. Losing your prized asset, the man who made Newcastle tick on the park, is a blow. Seeing nobody come through the door to replace them is despairing. I half don't blame Pardew for throwing a butt at the first person that crossed his path.

Life is never dull on Tyneside, the headlines are unfortunately often too close. Pardew's indiscretion on Humberside was an explosion of a build up of sheer frustration. Another transfer failing at a key time, the circus of life under Mike Ashley, another fan backlash to face - bearing the crimes of those above him. Unwanted fallings-out with Hatem Ben Arfa, a burnt-out squad with no competition for places. More derby misery.
Newcastle's failings in previous transfer markets has hindered Pardew

Since Newcastle United finished 5th in 2012, Pardew has arguably had it against him. Don't get me wrong he has made mistakes, but everyone does. Many fans accuse him of plain making excuses, but in my book they have been valid. His squad wasn't strengthened ahead of a European campaign and that season took its toll. Lessons weren't learned 12 months on. But now, heading in to 2014/15, the excuses are surely gone. Now it is time for the Manager to deliver. Time to remind us what you can do, Alan.

The squad is strengthened, a statement of intent from the club with signing after signing this summer. There are players fighting for every position, fewer guaranteed starters. All to play for. Siem De Jong and Remy Cabella in particular are mouth-watering prospects. Daryl Janmaat and Jack Colback also showing signs of being shrewd acquisitions. Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote will have points to prove. Davide Santon will have it all to do when he returns from injury, Papiss Cisse too.

The addition of Remy Cabella and several other summer signings has boosted Newcastle

A lot of critics cite Pardew's tactics as a major problem, but I would argue in saying that he hasn't had the personnel to be able to hurt teams tactically. Now he surely does, and a missing threat in the final third could be restored by Cabella and De Jong. United need to return to the swashbuckling set-up that saw Champions League almost return to St James' Park. One thing I would say is that Pardew should never have so readily moved away from that 4-3-3 set up. A naive desperation to keep Demba Ba happy the beginning of the end of such a devastating strategy.

Pardew knows he has it all do and knows the responsibility solely lies at his door now. I disagree with those that say a good start will determine his future, or the first 10 games will decide his fate. Pardew will get more time, stability still the focus at the club. Of course a good start is always important, but if Ashley wanted Pardew out he would have gone long ago. Newcastle fans want a team to be proud of again; a team challenging those European places. Perhaps it's not last-chance-saloon but it is certainly a crucial campaign for Alan Pardew. And we all certainly hope he can deliver.