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Newcastle United won't go down - but how about we learn our lessons from this latest brush with trouble?

By Mark Douglas on Mar 22, 11 09:17 AM


I MAY be setting myself up for a fall with this one but as a veteran of that infernal 2008/09 campaign I feel qualified to make a bold judgement. Newcastle United will not be relegated this season.

The advance of the struggling pack combined with United's own flat-lining form has rightly raised alarm on Tyneside but panic is not the appropriate reaction. Not yet, anyway.

I fielded a couple of calls on Monday insisting that the wheels are falling off at St James' Park but I tend to think minor corrections and a fairer wind will help Newcastle to banish relegation fears. The fact they are now wide awake to the threat of the drop - rather than seeking comfort in their league place - will hopefully spark a bit more urgency from certain squad members who appear to be have been coasting in recent weeks.

It may also prompt a bit more pragmatism from Alan Pardew, who has found his judgement questioned in recent weeks after a couple of tactical calls that went awry.

Pardew was brought in partly because the club's power brokers believed Chris Hughton not to be bold enough to prosper in the Premier League. They watched dire home draws with Wigan and Fulham and were disappointed by his lack of dynamism.

And when their new appointment's brave calls yielded points and performances against Arsenal and West Ham, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias probably felt a mite vindicated.

I'm not sure how they felt after the last two games but Pardew's risk taking has been much less successful against Everton and Stoke. Decisions to play 3-5-2 and trial Danny Simpson as a right midfielder - especially when released Wayne Routledge is starring for QPR - have chipped away at the credit built up by Pardew during a solid start to his St James' Park career.

But it was the call to bring back veteran Sol Campbell that was most puzzling. The former Arsenal man is yet to convince for Newcaslte and it felt like an unnecessary gamble to play him at Stoke - especially when the more mobile Steven Taylor was available. He had not enjoyed his afternoon against Mikel Arteta a fortnight previously but was the implication that Taylor, not exactly a slouch in the air, was not equipped to cope with the Potters' physical bombardment?

Still, I believe Pardew remains the right man for this particular job. In the short-term results have been disappointing but behind-the-scenes I remain convinced that this manager is constructing a system, set-up and style that will reap some form of longer term rewards.

Having assembled an excellent backroom team and with some sterling work going on in the scouting and youth departments, the Pardew project is one to judge next February - after a couple of transfer windows have allowed him to assemble his own squad and impose his own style.

But that doesn't cloud the fact significant short-term improvements are required, and Pardew needs to get United back to basics for the next few games. A 4-4-2 playing to the strengths that helped them earlier in the season might be a start.

That fixture list does throw up opportunity, too. Wolves, Villa and Blackpool are Newcastle's next three opponents and four points would virtually ensure safety.

That is not impossible. Mick McCarthy's side are fuelled by fierce, unquenchable desire but are eminently vulnerable away from home. Defensively they are one of the division's weaker teams and if Pardew sends out an attacking side, I'd fancy Newcastle to be among the goals once again. Villa appear to be in a meltdown to rival United's two years ago while the rigours of a Premier League season are catching up with Blackpool.

Even if disaster strikes in those games, home engagements with Birmingham and West Brom offer a fourth and fifth chance to secure the two victories that will keep Newcastle up.

Not that this cheery prognosis should prevent a bout of introspection at the end of the season. Mistakes have been made and I can't help but be exasperated by the way things have played out over the last three weeks.

Certainly, the folly of United's January transfer window has been well and truly exposed. The Andy Carroll sale is well trodden ground but it actually masks the real mistake made at the turn of the year - the arrogant belief that no investment was required to shore up a squad that had been over-achieving substantially up until that point.

Pardew needed a midfielder, a full-back and a proven striker in that window. In my opinion all three would have had the club in a Europa League position; two out of three might have secured a top ten finish while just bringing in a forward would have been enough to avoid this unseemly scrap.

The fact that they secured none of them - with the exception of the injured Stephen Ireland - and actually sold their best player remains a breathtaking oversight. It is as if Ashley and Llambias had forgotten the trauma of relegation in 2009 and rolled the dice all over again.

I just hope that if United make it over the line, this latest close call will finally help the club's powerbrokers realise that the Premier League is too unpredictable and unforgiving an environment for this kind of gambling. Given recent history, that is probably a forlorn hope.

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