Where is it all going wrong for Newcastle United?

Posted by Marc Duffy

Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United/Getty ImagesThere were times this season when Newcastle manager Alan Pardew could only stare in disbelief at what he was seeing.

With four Premier League games remaining Newcastle United are two places and six points above the relegation zone -- a position that surprises even the most pessimistic Newcastle fans following last season's fifth placed finish.

How has it come to this? There are so many failings that if I was to write about all of them in great depth this blog would cover thousands upon thousands of words.

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In my opinion the problems began in the Boardroom when they failed to strengthen on a squad that everyone knew was weak. The club's 'purples' signing policy left Alan Pardew short on quality. The signing of Vurnon Anita was also a strange one -- quality footballers are always welcome additions, but anyone could see that other positions needed to be strengthened before another midfielder came in. It is widely assumed that Pardew has little say in who comes in with Chief Scout Graham Carr identifying signings. Anita may well have been a signing that Pardew did not want when you consider how little he has used him throughout the season.

The board finally strengthened the squad in the January transfer window but by that point the league season was a battle for survival rather than something to build on after last year.

Pardew's 'Manager of the Year' titles seem to have changed how the manager thinks and operates. Time and time again this season Pardew has tried to make himself look clever -- the season has been littered with bizarre team line-ups, mental tactical reshuffles at strange times in matches and players playing out of position.

The most criminal of these is Pardew's use of Moussa Sissoko. Sissoko arrived in January and made an instant impact with a superb through ball for a Papiss Cisse goal at Aston Villa followed by an all-time great individual performance at St James' Park in the 3-2 win over Chelsea. Since then Pardew has opted to use the dominant French International midfielder as a Number 10 (someone to aim long balls at in Pardew's setup) or as a wide man. Unbelievable. Even French manager Didier Deschamps felt the need to scorn this.

It's not just Moussa though -- Cisse played the opening months of the season as a wide man, Jonas Gutierrez has played all the way across midfield as well as at fullback, Cheick Tiote has played some games in a more advanced position than Yohan Cabaye which is totally baffling. Even if Pardew sees Cabaye as a 'Quarterback' with the ability to spray passes around, his tactics often totally miss out the midfield making this role redundant.

There also look to be some other coaching deficiencies. We all now know that Newcastle haven't score a goal from a corner in 18 months and over 200 games. We all know that the next time Newcastle get a free kick anywhere between 35 and 70 yards from goal they will aim to Mike Williamson or Steven Taylor at the back post to no avail. Why? Do they not practice these things? Why so predictable and so unsuccessful? It's not good enough.

Newcastle supporters have spent most of the season watching ugly football. Their 'long ball' count has consistently exceeded all other Premier League teams. Players like Cabaye, Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa cannot enjoy playing in such an ugly, underperforming side.

Then again, the players have to take their share of responsibility too. Perhaps some Newcastle supporters overrate their players? The majority of Newcastle supporters rated Tiote as a £20million footballer only 18 months ago -- don't deny it! I was one. Did we overrate Tiote or is this another sign of coaching deficiency? How can a player who was so dominating and vital become such a liability? I can't speak for supporters of other clubs but at Newcastle there is a culture of footballers being regarded as either 'world class' or 'absolutely shocking' when in reality the majority of them are neither.

Pardew has bemoaned bad luck or, to quote a Pardewism, "we just didn't have the rub of the green" a few times this season. Newcastle have also enjoyed a fair amount of good luck -- look at Demba Ba's unspotted handball goal at Reading or the late, deflected winner against West Brom.

Tiredness has also been a regular excuse for the manager. While I am sure it has played it's part off the back of a Europa League campaign, Newcastle only played in two domestic cup games. Compare that to Chelsea -- Cabaye and Sissoko were said to be tired in the 3-0 capitulation to Sunderland but Chelsea's Juan Mata and Eden Hazard have played 114 games between them this season -- a lot more than our French duo, and they still look in great shape. Chelsea obviously have a superior player conditioning programme. Injuries have severely plagued Newcastle all season and far too many of them have been muscular.

The spirit of the players is a strange one. How can you explain so many late, late winners while also considering the absolutely pitiful displays at Southampton, Manchester City, the second half at West Brom on Saturday or the capitulation to one of the poorest Sunderland sides in years? Some of this is down to a lack of leadership on the pitch. The appointment of Fabricio Coloccini as Captain was a strange one -- Everton demonstrated how players can influence the officials when they won at St James' Park in January with Leighton Baines and company constantly in the referee's ear – Coloccini, on the other hand, is far from fluent in English. This has to have an effect. Quite what Pardew has said in the dressing room at times is also a concern -- his 15 minutes with the players at halftime can completely ruin performances.

This has been a long, unpleasant season. Newcastle will survive but a lot of things have to be addressed in the summer on and off the pitch.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

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