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.
He galvanised supporters after the Andy Carroll sale and the contentious upheaval of last summer because it felt like the board was taking those big decisions. This time, it is the manager and his players fully facing the flak for the first time.
If it seems absurd to be asking such searching questions of a boss who picked up the manager of the year accolades in May, it is just a symptom of a game that is now analysed from all angles in much greater depth than before. That is a curse for a manager like Pardew but also a blessing when things are going well. Correctly, he accepts it is an inevitability.
He said: “The new medium of Twitter and Facebooking is accelerating the process of putting pressure on managers. We’ve got it here, we’ve lost three games and it’s starting to build here – very, very quickly.
“It’s very, very difficult but we have to deal with it, it’s our job and I think the most important thing is to focus on our teams and what we can do. Now we’ve got some improving to do, there’s no doubt about that. Not just myself and my coaching team but my players as well – we’re conscious we need to do that quickly.”
It is a similar message from the dressing room, where the man pictured apologising at Southampton is adamant that the team are not cowering away from their problems.
“Of course people will say that we’re in a relegation fight, it’s natural.
“We have a little bit of pressure and when you look at the table there is now only four or five teams between us and the bottom. Three points is really important for the season, the mentality and for moving forward. It’s difficult for everybody when we are playing like this but everyone needs to help.
“Every player, every staff member and every fan needs to help to get out of this trouble. If that happens, I am confident we will get out of the trouble we’re in.” Pardew talked of the “psychological” effect of big players like Fabricio Coloccini missing games, and Santon was candid enough to admit that the constant shuffling of the pack has had an effect.
“At this point we have many players who are injured and we change the team all the time, it is difficult to know who is going to play even as players,” he said.
“We’ve had Coloccini out, Cheick (Tioté), Cabaye, Ben Arfa – so it is difficult for us. We just have had a bad year with injuries, but at least we have Coloccini coming back, which is very important for us. It feels as if when one player comes in, another will go out.”
Having spent the morning defending “high balls into the box”, Santon is adamant that Newcastle are ready. The time for apologies, he says, is over.
“I had to say sorry to the supporters on Sunday because the fans are fantastic,” he said.
“Every game they are with us, every game they support us, but we did not do enough on Sunday. It is a bad period for us and they are going through it with us, so I wanted to go over and say sorry, not just clap them. We have to win at Stoke for those people.”