IT HAS been examining at times, but Alan Pardew has been delighted with the way the past year has gone. Mark Douglas reports.
IN the grand scheme of things, five games without a win is a pretty minor bump in the road for Alan Pardew.
This year has brought the sale of his star striker, a very public digital row between his most high-profile player and his employers, the renaming of the city’s grand stadium, the departure of his highly influential captain and a failure to land a replacement for Andy Carroll that left many supporters fearing the worst.
Chuck in a few of the secondary issues – a hugely disruptive injury to Steven Taylor, a testing tour of America and Hatem Ben Arfa’s fitness woes – and you might think it would be a year that Pardew was glad to see the back of.
Not a bit of it. For all the crises chucked the Newcastle manager’s way - and the current blip is another one to resolve – he has kept his eyes very firmly trained on the “bigger picture”.
And the wider perspective for Newcastle United is that they are way ahead of where they were 12 months ago, with a more flexible, attractive style and a squad much more at ease with itself than the one that ushered in the start of a New Year.
Personally, Pardew has turned around public opinion with results and a tactical fluidity that has convinced Newcastle supporters he is no-one’s casino cronie – the unfair accusation laid at his door when he first took over.
The pace of progress has been more rapid than he could have hoped for.
“It’s been a fantastic year,” he said. “It’s more than I could have hoped for in terms of where we are.
“You know people will look at our recent run and they don’t actually look at the bigger picture.
“We’re in a fantastic position in the league, we’ve still got some good games coming up and it’s all there for us. We’re just rolling on. We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be, for sure.”
Pardew bristled at suggestions that the visit of West Brom represented a “must-win” match in the pre-match briefing. Standing seventh in the league with festive fixtures that could yield points, it is an understandable approach from a manager who is adamant that his best team could be a match for anyone in the Premier League.
Asked whether he felt progress could be secured this quickly when he took over, his response is honest enough. Having made the jump from relegation battle to the top 10 though, he is now hungry for more. ‘Sixth or seventh’ position is the aim.
“We didn’t think we’d be in this position,” he said. “When you’re lying second in the league, with the budget we’ve got, to try and stay there is totally unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to aim for those heights. We want to keep up there in sixth or seventh.
“We’ve had some bad fortune with injuries because when we played against the best teams we didn’t have out best team.
“When we went to Norwich we were in the unusual position of having our three main first-choice centre-halves out injured. But it does turn around and when we get our best team we are competitive.”