NEVER mind the pressing need for ‘purples’, Newcastle United’s Christmas is being coloured a deep shade of red.
After being engulfed by a crimson tide at Old Trafford and the Emirates in the space of a few days, United’s demoralised players look to be running pretty close to empty.
And if red faces were the appropriate reaction to shipping seven for the first time in Premier League history, the bigger concern should be the state of the table. Even Alan Pardew admitted afterwards that they are on red alert against the threat of relegation, fully aware that their current form will leave them hanging on when the reckoning comes in May.
For all that this was a day unlike any other in Newcastle’s recent history, there was also the recurrence of some of 2012’s more alarming themes as the year ended with a remarkable defeat.
When Pardew’s teams take a hit, they don’t do half measures. Think 5-2 at Fulham, 5-0 at Spurs or 4-0 at Wigan: there is a an admirable desire to attack the opposition but in a season of almost unremitting anxiety, it is beginning to look like a kamikaze streak.
When you factor in the way Newcastle defended – especially the full-backs – it looked like almost wanton self-destruction against a team that need no invitation to attack with pace and poise. Pardew admitted afterwards that his team should have pulled down the shutters but, alarmingly, he said they just couldn’t do it.
At one point, the swashbuckling offensive swagger of those in black and white brought back memories of the United of Kevin Keegan. But by the end it was more like Ossie Ardiles as Newcastle attacked with reckless abandon but proved incapable of defending even the most rudimentary Arsenal attack.
Resources, and a lack of those damned ‘purple’ established players, played a huge part. There was a lack of authority too, though, and the team was crying out for more leaders as the game drained away from them in those eye-watering final minutes. Who knows what damage was done to confidence, as Arsenal ascended into seventh heaven.
For all that we are consumed with worry by United’s parlous predicament, it is worth noting that the neutral media in the Emirates Press room were full of fulsome praise for Newcastle’s contribution to the contest.
And however hurt the black and white faithful are this morning, they will surely accept that this did not carry the hallmarks of a four-goal beating for long periods. The crazy scoreline was affected by some circumstances beyond Pardew’s control. On Boxing Day, United were engaged in the toughest fixture the Premier League can throw up while Arsenal – hampered by a Tube strike – didn’t play and fatigue accounts partly for the way the Gunners steamrollered a broken Newcastle in the closing stages of the contest.
But the bad fortune argument only runs so far, and this was really a case of the Magpies’ chickens coming home to roost in embarrassing fashion. All those dire warnings in the summer about the effect of not strengthening – and Derek Llambias told this newspaper that Newcastle had enough ‘purples’ earlier in the year – have proved true.