Pardew rolls with the punches
The word at St James' Park at the moment is that Alan Pardew is under close observation when it comes to his performance as manager of Newcastle United.
Actually, given the pressure of one of the toughest jobs in football, whoever is Newcastle boss is always under pressure to achieve, so Pardew shouldn't class himself as a special case.
But despite being under the cosh from fans at the end of last season, he has at least started the 2014-15 campaign. He faces a tough start against Manchester City on Sunday and doesn't need to be told the value of victory against the mega-rich northwest club.
Beating Man City wouldn't just earn three points for Pardew; it would also buy him a bit of extra time and ease the pressure going into games against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in Weeks 2 and 3. To do it, Pardew will need to go for the jugular. Newcastle fans wouldn't be shocked if their side were beaten by the defending Premier League champions Sunday. In fact, some supporters are actually expecting a defeat. If Pardew is to have a saving grace, it will be the way his team set their stall out against City.
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Putting the defensive shutters up and trying to grind out a result won't go down well with fans, especially if it leads to what would be the club's eighth defeat in nine Premier League matches. Going down after trying to attack City and take the game to them, on the other hand, could be a different story, especially if that's backed up with decent results against Villa and then Palace.
Yes, it sounds complicated, but really it's quite simple for Pardew. If he can find a system in his playbook that conjures up an attacking plan, that would at least offer some solace to those who were fed up with his tactics last season.
He was booed by the St James' Park crowd last term but has had a pretty easy ride in preseason. There was no repeat of the days when Jack Charlton was jeered so badly in a preseason friendly with Sheffield United that he resigned from his post.
Pardew has experienced only a few mild chants for playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa, who is currently banished to the reserves. And even though Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella, Daryl Janmaat, Jack Colback, Manu Riviere and Ayoze Perez are poised to make their black-and-white debut, the undercard of some big Premier League bouts ahead has pretty much been Pardew vs. Ben Arfa.
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Ben Arfa has been axed from training and wasn't even allowed to play for the reserves in local games against Blyth Spartans or Spennymoor. His misery was compounded this week when Pardew made him train alone rather than take part in the open training session in front of 5,000 fans at St James' Park.
Just as some fans are divided in terms of having a positive or negative outlook on the season ahead, some think Pardew is right to drop Ben Arfa and others want him back in the side. Unless Pardew gets off to a good start, though, the script could already be written. And it's one some of us have seen before.
This week I spoke to former Newcastle star Rob Lee about the situation. Of course, Lee survived at Newcastle under circumstances that are similar to Ben Arfa's. It went a bit like this: Lee was out in the cold, Ruud Gullit lost games, the crowd chanted Lee's name, Gullit resigned, and Lee was recalled to the team.
For that to happen to Ben Arfa, Pardew will have to get off to a losing start and play with a negative game plan. But this is Newcastle, and in keeping with the madness, Pardew could quite as easily lead his team to a winning start against City. This is Newcastle United Football Club, after all.