Last December I think the majority of Newcastle fans, myself included, were in shock at the appointment of Alan Pardew as manager of the club on a five and a half year contract.
His record during his previous terms of employment, at the highest level, is less than favourable but now, there is an air of excitement at St. James’ Park.
During the Mike Ashley era, the Magpies have had, including stints as caretakers, seven managers. Chris Hughton was sacked on the back of a bad run of results in the build up to Christmas and it was felt that a manager with “more experience” was required. As of today, Pardew has overseen 560 games with 5 clubs, 31 of which have come with Newcastle.
The back end of last season yielded mixed results; there was the 5-0 mauling of West Ham; the epic 4-4 with Arsenal; and 4-1 against Wolves. Undermining this was; the 3-1 exit in the FA Cup against Stevenage; the 4-0 defeat at Stoke; and the unfortunate 3-3 final day clash with West Brom. Had the Black & Whites not thrown away a 3-0 lead they would have finished in the top half of the table, but ultimately finished a respectable 12th.
When Pardew first came in, he was seen as Ashley’s ‘Yes’ man. Despite telling the fans and the press throughout the January transfer window that Andy Carroll would not be sold, on the last day of the season, Liverpool smashed the British transfer record and signed him for £35 million. Newcastle were left without an out-and-out striker, but still managed a to finish in a decent league position thanks to a combined effort of the remaining notorious goal-scorers. One must remember that Newcastle were in their first returning Premier League season, and fellow promoted side Blackpool went straight back down.
This summer proved a shocker, and the team got off to an indifferent start in their pre-season matches. Defeats against Orlando City and Leeds, and a draw against Kansas City hardly proved to be ideal preparation. Transfer rumours, and subsequent activity, were in full swing and there were some shocks for all concerned on Tyneside. Newcastle’s Captain, Kevin Nolan, moved to relegated side West Ham due to the board’s unwillingness to offer him a long and expensive contract. Jose Enrique joined Liverpool, and Joey Barton became the victim of his own actions after a rant on Twitter and was placed on the transfer list on a free and shown the door.
Alan Pardew, with the apparent backing of the board signed a quartet of French players; Yohan Cabaye; Sylvain Marveaux; Meidi Abeid; and Gabriel Obertan. The club had a surprisingly busy transfer window, also snapping up free-agent Demba Ba and signing up Davide Santon and Rob Elliot to bolster the squad. The biggest controversy of the window was the failure of the club to bring in a replacement for the £35 million Andy Carroll. Uncertainty hung over the new season as many of us were unsure how our new signings would gel, and whether or not we would miss the big dressing room players that had helped develop the team spirit that was well documented under Chris Hughton’s reign as manager and whether or not we would cope with a Number 9.
Despite these fears, the Magpies have had their best start to a season in 16 years and are unbeaten in their opening six games Premier League for the first time since the 1994/95 season. They currently sit fourth in the table, and also have the fourth best goal difference in the League.
After poor starts from both Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba, mainly due to their religious observance of the Ramadan festival, the two players are getting to grips with the frenetic pace that the League demands and Ba scored his first goals, and first hat-trick, for the club this weekend. Leon Best has scored 9 goals in 16 Premier League games for the club. Yohan Cabaye, despite having done everything but score, has a shot on target percentage of 64% and seems to have settled very quickly in English football. It looks like a formidable partnership is in the making with Cheik Tiote, giving free-reign to fast attacking play down the wings and encouraging development in attack while the centre of the park is controlled by the duo.
One of the more shocking stats is that Newcastle have conceded the fewest goals in the League so far. Steven Taylor has rediscovered his form of old, and newly instated Captain, Fabricio Coloccini, has also contributed massively to the teams fantastic start. Tim Krul also deserves a mention, as a number of incredible saves have also helped Newcastle reach the dizzy heights of fourth place. Despite playing Ryan Taylor out of position at left-back, the team has only conceded 3 goals in the League and have also earned 3 clean sheets.
Even though a huge amount of hatred and anger is aimed at the board and owner, full credit must be given to Alan Pardew for his signings, tactics and development of a positive dressing room. Splitting the roles of coaching attack and defence between himself and his assistant, John Carver, is proving fruitful and the team still looks like the solid unit we were worried would be lost with the relinquishing of Nolan, Barton and Enrique over the summer.
With players such as Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon still to make their first full appearances this season, there are plenty of options in both attack and defence which could offer some selection headaches. The team is now crammed with young, exciting players who have a point to prove and want to play football for this club and at the top level.
Perhaps now is the time for a new era of ‘Entertainers’ on Tyneside?