IN recent years banners have sprung up at a couple of Premier League grounds expressing undying faith in the team’s manager. Even after two manager of the year awards last season, there is no such vote of confidence in Alan Pardew hanging from the St James’ Park terracing.
When Pardew tried to change things against Queen’s Park Rangers, trust was the last thing he was getting from the 50,180 crowd. As the fourth official raised Papiss Cissé’s number nine on his electronic board, they booed their disapproval. Once Shola Ameobi had been cheered on, they chanted the departed Cissé’s name. They were as unimpressed as the stroppy Senegalese.
But after a season which has seen him fumbling in the dark to find the best formation within a depleted squad, Pardew demonstrated on Saturday he had rediscovered the Midas Touch for substitutions.
Not only did Ameobi score a goal of such beauty it was totally out of place in a game as dismal as the weather, the ball was laid to him by another substitute, Sylvain Marveaux.
But appropriately at this time of year, it was Gabriel who did most to promise better times to come. With all the hullabaloo around Cissé’s substitution, Gabriel Obertan had sneaked into the fray alongside Ameobi but soon made himself noticed.
A squelchy pitch and heavy, cold, swirling rain provided terrible conditions to play football in, so Newcastle United and QPR decided not to.
Even with the ball holding up on the sodden surface, Obertan showed more willingness to dribble across it in half an hour than Jonás Gutiérrez has all season.
In the absence of Yohan Cabaye’s guile and Hatem Ben Arfa’s invention, Newcastle again have a player they can get excited about and opposition defenders can fear. The Frenchman was brilliant in the Europa League group stage, never more so than against old club Bordeaux.
Perhaps that bodes well for Wednesday, when Newcastle face his other former side, Manchester United. Curiously, though, Obertan was never given the chance to transfer his European form to domestic football. Once more trust – this time from his manager – seemed in short supply. But with Pardew leaning more towards 4-3-3 than 4-4-2 at the moment, his qualities are needed. Even before his introduction, Newcastle had got in countless times behind right-back Anton Ferdinand – preferred to another former Sunderland man, Nedum Onouha, and to José Bosingwa, who the previous week declined to earn his £65,000-a-week wages as a substitute. The problem was, it amounted to very little.
Gutiérrez produced one early cross which eluded Demba Ba and another which died on Cissé. Squatting in mid-air, he could only head wide.