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Jan 19, 2013

Newcastle get that sinking feeling

The winter of discontent rumbles on for Alan Pardew. Newcastle have started 2013 in much the same vein they concluded 2012. One point from nine makes for grim reading if you're a Newcastle fan. As does a home defeat to second-bottom Reading, a club in their first season back in the top flight.

"The first half was as well as we probably could have played. I thought we controlled the game made numerous chances," Pardew said after the game. His assessment was fair, with striker Papiss Cisse denied several times by Royals goalkeeper Adam Federici, but the fact remains the Magpies suffered a damaging home defeat.

With Frenchman Yohan Cabaye starting his first game since November 4, his influence could not be understated. In an interview last season, Cabaye revealed his aim to always take 100 touches in a game, an homage to his idol Xavi. More than just quantity, it was the quality of his time on the ball that helped Newcastle in the early stages. A delightful, chipped pass to Cisse was perhaps his best moment of creativity in this game.

It seemed fitting that he would also provide the breakthrough. A pass inside sent Sylvain Marveaux charging at the visiting defence before he was felled, and the subsequent free-kick was only going to be left to one man. Cabaye's knee-slide into the corner and patting of the club's badge after beating Federici from the set-piece gave brief cheer for the home side as dark storm clouds gather over St James' Park.

Just as Cabaye was controlling the middle, want-away defender Fabricio Coloccini was a rock at the back. Constantly gesticulating, so important is the 30-year-old that his future will be key to the Magpies' survival hopes irrespective of whether they secure Montpellier captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa following pre-match reports that a fee has been agreed.

For Reading, Pavel Pogrebnyak may have arrived on a free transfer but his reported £65,000-per-week wage makes him far and away the club's highest earner. However it was not the Russia international who turned this game on its head and he will be pleased his wasteful day in front of goal didn't cost them points. He poked wide in the first half before blazing over in the second.

Contrast his performance with that of matchwinner Adam Le Fondre, signed for a mere £300,000 following a career in the lower leagues with Stockport County, Rochdale and Rotherham United. His two-chance, two-goal return, making it eight for the season in the league, indicates an incredibly astute purchase: "£300,000 wouldn't even buy one his socks now," McDermott joked when talking about 'Alfie' after the game.

For all the talk of bringing in Andrey Arshavin and claims owner Anton Zingarevich would splash out this month Hope Akpan, Stephen Kelly and Daniel Carrico - for a combined total of just under £3 million - are the extent of Reading's January business. There are still 11 days left in the January window but McDermott is focused on the here and now: "I live for today," he said about the club's chances of staying in the Premier League. Perhaps carpe diem would be more fitting in a fight for survival.

With a touch of fortune surrounding the equaliser as Le Fondre bundled the ball home (and may have handled it over the line), McDermott stayed partisan by insisting it had hit his striker's chest. The leveller brought discord among the home supporters, and they were quick to voice their disapproval in the 75th minute as Pardew replaced Cabaye. Boos rang round the ground, with audible cries of "you don't know what you're doing".

The change wasn't tactical though, Cabaye had earlier suggested to Pardew his groin was tight. Having already removed compatriot Marveaux, he was forced to concede afterwards that perhaps the latter change was made in haste and an unwise one.

Before the 80th minute, Reading's comeback was complete. Once again Le Fondre had found space and he took his chance clinically. For the 1,000 or so travelling fans there was unbridled joy, and even a moment of gallows humour: "We're winning away, how bad are you?" they sang at the home crowd, to the tune of terrace favourite by 'Sloop John B'.

Asked if he felt sympathetic, McDermott was blunt but understanding: "They have more points than we have," he said. "Alan Pardew was manager of the year last year. He brought me to Reading, so I have a lot to be grateful for. He's a great guy and a fantastic manager."

For Pardew, yet more claims that he needs a deeper squad. From "three or four" now "two or three", his demands are becoming less as January passes. Newcastle were here once before, in January 2009. For those fans now nervous on Tyneside, the hope is that the mistakes of four years ago will not be repeated.

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