Keep the faith

Posted by Marc Duffy

Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United/Getty ImagesAlan Pardew has guided Newcastle to a solid Europa League record, but things in the Premier League leave much to be desired.

Since Alan Pardew signed his eight year contract on September 27th, Newcastle's Premier League form has been terrible. Only one win in seven games and a total of six points is relegation form -- in fact over the course of a season that average would leave a team with only 33 points. Newcastle have only managed seven goals in those seven games too, an astonishing stat given the quality of attacking players at the club. The one win in this time probably makes a poor picture look better than it really has been as Newcastle scarcely deserved to take maximum points from a very unlucky West Bromwich Albion, courtesy of a last minute winner deflected in off Papiss Cisse.

It's not all doom and gloom though. These periods happen in football. In fact, exactly a year ago, Newcastle dipped in form from November 19th and collected only five points from eight league games.

Since Pardew extended his contract, European results have remained positive with seven points claimed from three group games and progression to the knockout stages looking likely. Has the Europa form affected Newcastle's league results? Personally, I don't think so. Saturday's pathetic display at home to Swansea came at the end of a European-free week. I do hope that Pardew places a greater focus on the Europa League now that Champions League is out of the question. (Incidentally, Pardew and his superiors seem to be the only people on the planet who thought it was a realistic goal for this season in the first place!)

When Pardew signed his eight year deal, it got me thinking about why it is almost unheard of for a sportsman or manager to be awarded such a long contract. The answer seems obvious to me -- the danger of complacency. Not necessarily from the manager himself, but from his players who might be guilty of slipping into a comfort zone? Is complacency a real risk here? Pardew worked through spells as a taxi driver and glazier in between his playing and coaching days so I am certain he won't take any football management job lightly.

There has been one major contradiction in Pardew's approach to the game of late. Firstly, the style of play he has sent the team out with has been as basic as you can get. So far this season, Newcastle have played a greater percentage of long balls than any other side in the Premier League. Eighteen percent of Newcastle passes have been long (source – eplstats; taken after the West Ham game last week) compared to 16% for Stoke City and only 15% for Sam Allardyce's West Ham United. I use those two teams as the comparative set as they have particular reputations for this. Three percent (the difference between NUFC and WHUFC) might not look much at first glance, but when you consider how many thousands of passes teams play over the course of the season, the actual number difference of long passes between the two sides is huge. Compare that to Newcastle's 2011/12 season percentage of long passes at 14.5% and we are being served up hundreds more long balls this season, literally.

So where is the contradiction? The contradiction comes in Pardew's complicated in-game tinkering. Last week against West Ham, it was when he opted to dismantle Newcastle's left hand side and only apparent threat by taking Shane Ferguson from left-wing to left-back, and Davide Santon from left-back to right-back -- a switch that was a major reason for the momentum ending. On Saturday, it was even more bizarre -- Vurnon Anita dropped from central midfield to left-back, Santon again swapped to right-back, another defensive midfielder came on despite the fact that Newcastle were losing the game and all shape was gone. The players looked uncertain as to where they were supposed to be playing and Swansea deserved the win. Both of these instances highlight unnecessary over thinking of the situation on Pardew's part.

I do wish Pardew would think about what he is saying in his press conferences too. After the Swansea game he commented that:

"....they tried their very best against a good side in Swansea, who had a lot more experience on the pitch and that showed."

More experience on the pitch? Really? The Swansea starting XI had a total of 261 Premier League appearances between them. The Newcastle starting XI has made a combined total of 570 Premier League appearances -- no fewer than 309 more than Swansea. I'm not buying that excuse at all.

He was right when he bemoaned the absentees -- most teams would miss Yohan Cabaye and Fabriccio Coloccini, plus Papiss Cisse would have been a nice option regardless of how poor he has been of late. Ryan Taylor is a hugely understated miss too. A growing number of the St James' Park faithful had been calling for the removal of Jonas Gutierrez from the team -- he was missing on Saturday and it didn't work out too well for us.

Most of us knew that Newcastle failing to strengthen in the summer would be costly and I'm sure that privately, Pardew would agree. There are positive signs though. Newcastle have had a lot of shots in the past two games (admittedly many very poor efforts among them) and from halftime up until the Swansea opener some of the best football we've played this season was in evidence.

A handful of supporters have turned on Pardew on various message boards and social media sites but I stress that it is only a handful. Madness. Every team has a poor period and I am confident we will come out of the other side in one piece. Who know, maybe we will finally strengthen in January? (I'm not holding my breath).

Follow me on Twitter @MarcSDuffy

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