Newcastle United head to Stoke tonight desperate to get themselves out of their midwinter slump. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas assesses the mood ahead of a clash of critical importance.
IT IS the image that sums up Newcastle United’s midwinter of discontent.
A sodden Davide Santon was pictured on Sunday gazing apologetically towards the massed ranks of travelling support at Southampton, his palms outstretched as he tries to convey his remorse at the performance that has gone before.
There is an honesty about the gesture, and an irony too, for he was one of Newcastle’s better players on the darkest day of the Alan Pardew era. There is also a helplessness that is unsettling, for it sums up the way a beleaguered United’s season seems to be spiralling out of control.
Yesterday, the message emerging from the camp was a defiant one. Pardew made a reference to not “sitting on their hands” while things don’t go for them, and bristled at talk of strengthening in the January transfer window. His focus, he contends, is on his current squad and what the group must do collectively to get out of their rut.
He said: “The bottom line is, as a football team you have problems and you have to acknowledge them otherwise you won’t solve them. We have looked at all the problems we have, including set-plays, and we are going to have to change and work with a different team.
“A big creative force of this team is in the treatment room, Hatem (Ben Arfa) and (Yohan) Cabaye are two big players for us in terms of imagination. You cannot suddenly say to a team to start delivering the type of imagination those two offer us. So we have to come up with a different game plan to win games.
“The link between the attack and midfield has been a problem for us, and in terms of the opposition, playing Stoke is not ideal if you want to get that going again because the game is a stop-start game.
“We coped well with that last year and I don’t think we are taking a very different team to the one we took last year. We have looked back at that game and I still think we can get a result.”
This was Pardew attempting to get a grip of the situation again, and sounding darned convincing in the process.
He has always coped well in a crisis, sounding the right note while restlessness rises around him. But the difference between this crisis and the others that he has confronted with aplomb is the feeling that this might be one that has much to do with his own decisions and strategies.