It was the last week of January and Newcastle United, for the most part, had endured a horrid first half to the season. One of their star performers from last season, Demba Ba, had departed from Chelsea while his compatriot and former strike partner Papiss Cisse had, like many before him, struggled to recapture his form from his first season in the Premier League.
What’s more, their captain and bedrock to the team, Fabricio Coloccini had rocked the club by demanding a move back to Argentina for personal reasons, while centre-midfielder Yohann Cabaye had been struggling with his fitness all season, as had Check Tiote who was away at the African Cup of Nations.
Newcastle looked a shadow of their former selves and instead of pushing on from the heroics of last season, they appeared burdened by it, weighed down by lofty expectations. For the first time since his hostile early days at the club, manager Alan Pardew was truly feeling the pressure.
In the space of three December days, they conceded 11 goals in two away games against Manchester United and Arsenal before losing consecutive home games to Everton and struggling Reading, the latter even prompting the manager to admit that they were in the midst of an unexpected relegation battle.
While some chairmen, perhaps even a more naive and reckless Mike Ashely, might have made an impulse decision and parted with the under-fire manager, Ashley showed the sort of sensibility that has become more common at St. James’ Park and backed his manager to the hilt. Pardew, with the full backing of his chairman and the power of his scouting network behind him set about adding some much needed depth and quality to a side lacking in the former if not necessarily the latter.
January spending sprees aren’t particularly popular in the Premier League, many managers preferring not to upset the squad mid-season and finding it difficult to find any sort of value for money, but Pardew did just that. Earlier in the month he’d brought in long-term target Mathieu Debuchy from Lille, before recruiting fellow Ligue 1 alma-maters Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Montpellier), Massadio Haidara (Nancy), Yoan Gouffran (Bordeaux) and Moussa Sissoko (Toulouse).
While these players, especially Yanga-Mbiwa and Sissoko were known for their undoubted potential, few would have expected that they’d have had the sort of initial impact they’ve had. Despite concerns that the French contingent might cause disharmony in a squad with many nationalities, Newcastle have flourished since their latest injection of talent from across the channel.
Sissoko was a steal at under £3M and made an immediate impact. So influential was he in his first two games (wins against Aston Villa and Chelsea) that after the game at Villa Park, Pardew admitted that they probably wouldn’t have won the game without him.
Going from a run of just 3 wins in 15 Premier League games, since the January transfer window Newcastle have collected 4 wins from their last 5 games, the sole defeat being away to League Cup winner Swansea. While the influx of players has brought quality to the squad, it also appears to have brought focus to the players already at the club.
Last seasons’s hero Papiss Cisse has begun to return to last season’s form, want-away Fabricio Coloccini has resolved his issues at least until the end of the season and homegrown centre-back Steven Taylor is playing the sort of football we haven’t seen from him in years, even sparking calls for a first England cap. Cabaye and Tiote’s return from injury and international duty respectively have been timely too in the club’s return to winning ways.
While there’s been little praise of Pardew and even less for the still somewhat unpopular Mike Ashley, as the old adage goes; credit where credit’s due. At a tough time, Ashley put his trust in his manager and his staff, and his trust has been rewarded.
Pardew has done what few managers have done, brought in a high quantity of good value, quality players to a struggling side whilst still keeping the current players onside. In fact, if anything the players appear more committed to the cause than ever. The manager’s success at turning a potentially horrendous season around convincing all (apart form the most sceptical) that he is, without doubt, the man for the job.
In the space of a number of weeks he’s turned an unexpectedly faltering season into one of positivity, excitement and renewed hope. For that, Pardew and Ashley deserve much more credit than they’re likely to get.
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