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Dec 27, 2013

Pardew aims to end Newcastle's 2013 on a high

Newcastle will round off the year with a top of the table clash with Arsenal. That in itself is a line I never thought I'd be writing going into the final game of what has been an emotionally charged 2013 at St James' Park.

But it's been that type of crazy year on Tyneside.

Make no doubt about it -- on paper this Newcastle squad have always had the capabilities to sustain some type of challenge in the Premier League. That was certainly the view Alan Pardew held back in the summer when I chatted to him in more relaxed circumstances in the team's plush Braga hotel during pre-season.

Since then, Pardew has endured some extreme lows and some extreme highs. He was under immense pressure when he lost the Tyne-Wear derby at Sunderland a few weeks ago. But he has turned it round and while forgiveness is always hard to come by when you lose a game to the auld enemy, he has certainly redeemed himself since. Finally, getting one over bitter former title rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford went a long way to that in my opinion.

That day, he gave something back to the supporters. They've chanted his name in recent weeks too, and it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still a few uncomfortable political scenarios bubbling away in the background.

Pardew must have felt under extra pressure when director of football Joe Kinnear was appointed above his head during the summer. It was an astonishing move as Kinnear returned from the football wilderness and began telling the world his intentions on his "second coming" to St James' Park.

It's a move that still doesn't sit well with the United faithful. Kinnear's flurry of statements in the early weeks has turned from a gush of media interviews to just a trickle. These days, his thoughts are condensed to the match programme in a column that appears to be more controlled and surely approved by some of the admin staff behind the scenes.

Kinnear goes into 2014 still looking to break his transfer duck too with no permanent signings on the board despite a claim he could pick up the phone to any manager in the world when he took on what is a huge, huge job.

For Pardew, his job in the new year is simply to manager the team and continue his good work. The credit lies with Pardew and his backroom staff but he is still operating in a world of restrictions. He doesn't have the ultimate say in transfers like some managers do and he is told who he can and can't speak to in the media, often overruled by his Press officer during post-game media conferences.

I know that will come as a huge surprise to readers across the pond. Having experienced how the media works in North America in the NHL, NBA, MLS and NFL, there must be PR gurus in a state of shock when they learn that Newcastle United actually wave publicity away from their doors -- especially given that not every game is a sell-out and there are still season tickets available to fans with the festive period and the window of opportunity to buy Christmas presents now closed.

That, though, is just how things are for Pardew going into 2014 and he can only be judged on results. Yet he is doing a magnificent job when it comes to what is in his control.

Tactics and selection and general management of the team are something he is excelling at once again. That was the reason he won Premier League and LMA manager of the year in 2012 and unless Liverpool or Everton win the Premier League title, for my money Pardew would be in the box seat for such an award again in 2014 if -- and it's a big if -- Newcastle shock the world and break into that top four.

To do that, avoiding defeat against Arsenal on Sunday is a must. And it's not impossible for the Magpies in my view. They'll have to start better than they did against Stoke City in the 5-1 hammering on Boxing Day and won't be able to rely on the two red cards that paved the way for success.

Even Arsene Wenger knows that there is a tough test lying in wait, but everything is set up for an end of year cracker at St James' Park.

With the turkey sandwiches now behind us, all that's left to do before New Years Eve is sit back and hopefully enjoy one of the biggest games of the season.