NEWCASTLE United’s season is careering towards a crossroads next weekend after a day of mounting frustration that saw them blow the chance to climb to sixth in the Premier League table.
Alan Pardew’s men have been enjoying their Continental adventures but the bread and butter of domestic action has proved less than inspiring, and Kevin Nolan’s winner consigned the team to a second home defeat of the season.
Newcastle have won only one of their last six Premier League games, and that a fortunate defeat of West Bromwich Albion a fortnight ago.
Pardew admitted last night that his team is struggling to find their rhythm, and suggested that the absence of Cheick Tioté, who will return from a three-game domestic ban on Saturday, was an important factor in their struggles.
But although Tioté is back, Pardew now has doubts over four key players for the Swansea game. Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé, Jonás Gutiérrez and Yohan Cabaye are all due for scans on knocks picked up over the last seven days, and the Magpies manager can ill afford to lose any of them given the way the season is going.
He said: “We have a side that has played its 17th game. It is proving difficult to get in to the rhythm at home. Away from home we have been strong, dogged without pulling up trees.
“At home we need to perform better than we did today. I didn’t think Europe had much impact here. We played a
different side. We have only had a couple of days to prepare, but I didn’t want to make the Europa League an excuse. We had a good mindset today; we just didn’t click.”
Naturally, some will look to the exertions of Europe as a possible reason for the lethargy that affected Newcastle in the opening stages, but with only two starters from the midweek engagement in Bruges, it would be a strange assumption to draw.
Pardew is looking closer to home and, in an implicit criticism of the underwhelming contribution of Vurnon Anita, he made the point that the defence is missing the authority of Tioté.
“It is certainly not (the Europe effect). We had a team protected from that. We can’t have any excuses from that. Preparation was okay. We lacked a lot of power in the game today. It was a game for Tioté – and his sending-off against Sunderland has proven key for us in this game.
“We used Perch for that role and he has got an injury as well. They are two players who break up the play and put tackles in.”
Pardew had asked for his team to be judged on their first ten games of the season and with the side stuck in tenth, the obvious conclusion to draw is they are lagging behind last term’s efforts. Pardew said he needed time to analyse before making a definitive statement on the club’s progress.
“It is difficult to ask me today, this is a disappointing result for me and the club. We have only lost four from 17 games and it hurts,” the manager said.
Pardew confirmed that the green light has been given for Shola Ameobi to represent Nigeria this week and said four of his players are “touch and go”.
“I think Jonás will go for a scan, Demba and Papiss are both struggling,” he revealed.
“Cabaye will have a scan because it looks like there’s something wrong in the stomach area, but he will probably travel (to meet up with the France squad).”