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Apr 12, 2014

What is left to look forward to?

If Newcastle United were given the option to end the Premier League season right now in ninth place, Alan Pardew would not need to be asked twice.

The season is spluttering and stuttering to a halt and, after 90 minutes in which the Magpies produced just one shot on target at the Britannia Stadium, there was little surprise when the fans vented their frustration as Newcastle slumped to their fourth defeat in a row.

It's now just three wins in 16 matches in all competitions. And two wins in 12 since Yohan Cabaye was sold to Paris Saint-Germain. You can dress it up any way you want: Newcastle have been poor in 2014. That trend continued at Stoke as the Potters took three points without having to break too much of a sweat.

It was difficult to watch for Newcastle fans as they found their side pressed high up the field for much of the first half. Peter Crouch had already struck the post, and while Erik Pieters' goal -- a cross-shot that got caught in the wind and beat Tim Krul all ends up -- was a total fluke, United failed to respond in positive manner.

Cheick Tiote's tame shot straight at the keeper was all they could muster, and they didn't fare much better in second half. In fact, had Crouch been a bit more prolific he could have had a hat trick, while Marko Arnautovic had a field day on the wing.

The Toon Army had chanted the name of Hatem Ben Arfa before and during the dire display and they got their wish when the French playmaker was introduced for the last 17 minutes.

Moments later he collided with Charlie Adam to sustain a dead leg and with all of United's subs used up wandered around the field with little impact as the game petered out. Newcastle were praised by Pardew afterwards for their commitment but in truth they looked like a team that need some direction and leadership. (Of course Pardew can't give it to them from in the stands after his ban for headbutting David Meyler.)

United fans would have accepted ninth place at the start of the season but what they can't accept are performances served up that don't match the passion of the fans. Surely they deserve better than one shot on target in 90 minutes? The worst part of the 1-0 loss against Stoke was that it all seemed so predictable.

Pardew started with a 3-5-2 formation but if the more expansive shape was meant to create chances going forward and stop them happening at the other end it failed on both counts. So what is left in the season to look forward to -- apart from the end?

Well, two home games with Swansea City and then Cardiff City should serve up two wins in most other circumstances. Yet Newcastle don't seem capable of doing that the way they are playing right now.

Tough trips to Arsenal and then Liverpool to wrap the season up are hardly games to look forward to for the fans either.

Despite calls for Pardew's head, though, from the supporters it is difficult to see anything changing while United are in the top 10. After all, Pardew is still on a bonus if he stays there and will actually be rewarded for this season.

The not-so-small matter of compensation on a deal with six years to run may also have a bearing. But in reality, the season will continue to stutter and splutter to a conclusion. Whether finishing outside the top 10 will see Pardew get his cards remains to be seen.

Somehow he must lift his side in the next week or so, or the fan protests will only get louder next week against Swansea.

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