WHAT with Fabricio Coloccini’s future and the resolution of their drawn-out striker hunt on the agenda before a Royal visit to St James’ Park on Saturday, this promises to be another hugely significant seven days for Newcastle United.
It says much for the fatalism that has seeped into the club’s DNA over the winter that they are approaching it with trepidation on Tyneside.
Loïc Rémy will add international class to the survival fight this week, but Magpies fans will be looking over the horizon and hoping the revolving door at St James’ Park doesn’t see Coloccini going the other way. It has been that kind of season.
Alan Pardew often talks about momentum and he is right to surmise that United are dreadfully short of that precious commodity at the moment.
There were crumbs of comfort that Pardew greedily gobbled up in his post-match briefing, but Newcastle will have to feast on relegation fodder on Saturday to convince anyone that this was the “step in the right” direction that the manager claimed it was.
In fact, the club need to do more than that. The minimum they must do is cut through the red tape and seal the Rémy deal this week before blasting away the obfuscation that surrounds their captain. Both have become matters of urgency for the gate-keepers at St James’ Park.
True, Coloccini was impeccable in shutting out a direct and uncomplicated Canaries attack and can’t have helped but notice the reception that he was afforded by the visiting United fans. But it is not his professionalism, ability or the affection of the United supporters that has ever been in doubt – it is his intentions.
On that front Pardew – like his team – was on the defensive. Asked to expand on the rather obvious point that he would be seeking a resolution to the matter this week, United’s manager either couldn’t or wouldn’t expand.
“We’ve got a meeting this week and we’ll try to resolve it. Of course I think we can resolve it,” he said. Further attempts by The Journal at clarifying the Coloccini issue were blocked.
It is an understandable strategy when dealing with a delicate matter. United have thrown a protective arm around Coloccini, who is suffering a crisis in his personal life that insiders say revolves around his wife’s medical condition, and the captain would expect no less from his employers.
A vacuum of information, however, will understandably prompt supporters to fear the worst. Given the way they have stuck with the skipper in trying circumstances this season – he was loudly lauded by travelling supporters – they perhaps deserve a bit more.
Instead they are left to guess. As he has done since the autumn, Coloccini refused interviews after his man-of-the-match display, and his close friend Jonás Gutiérrez was kept away from the Press too.
So it was left to Chris Hughton, on whose watch Coloccini enjoyed a career renaissance, to offer an educated opinion on the fate of Newcastle’s talisman. A bit of perspective, too. “I would love to see him stay,” the Norwich manager said. “But far more important than that – and I don’t know what the issues are – but if they’re family issues they’re far more important than football.
“There’s not a better lad than Coloccini, he was excellent when I was there and he’s really developed as a top player. From a Newcastle point of view, he’s an excellent player and certainly the club will not want to lose him.”
Can Coloccini really be expected to bury the personal problems that are dogging him for another six months, though? Hughton – whose professional blossoming away from St James’ Park has been a pleasure to behold – is sure that he can.
“He doesn’t miss many games and he’s a really tough individual, mentally as well. He’s a top player too. Certainly it would be a big blow to lose him – because of the man that he is as well.”
Pardew was just as adamant on that front. He used the term “crisis” to describe both Newcastle’s form and Coloccini’s off-field distractions, which was telling in its own way.
“He’s a class player,” he said. “Class players can play through most crises. We had a crisis today in terms of our results. Players of his calibre – and Tim Krul, (Yohan) Cabaye that are going to get us some belief.” If it wasn’t one for the purists on Saturday, Pardew’s satisfaction at a job adequately done was understandable.
He’d had time on the training ground to work with his back four and there was a major improvement in that area, which is encouraging. Krul was excellent, Coloccini defiant and Davide Santon – in danger of being consumed by the crisis in recent weeks – back to his best. The under-pressure Mike Williamson did his bit as well, throwing himself into the midst of the battle.
Mathieu Debuchy exuded class, too, and it was nice to hear Pardew say that he would be allowed to express himself a bit more against Reading on Saturday.
It was the sort of day when James Perch was United’s best player. It is impossible not to warm to Perch’s wholehearted approach, and this display showed just how far he has advanced since his days as a pariah in Hughton’s first season in the Premier League.
He blocked the path to a certain goal in the first half when Norwich had four on two – recovering to clear as Wes Hoolahan steadied himself to pull the trigger. It was one of the few opportunities in a match of little quality in the final third. Russell Martin brushed the post with a second-half volley, while Anthony Pilkington was lively in bursts.
Newcastle, by contrast, offered little threat – which makes news of Rémy’s arrival so welcome.
United need their whole squad to recognise the fragility of their situation. It was a surprise to see the peripheral Gabriel Obertan react with such disappointment when he was substituted for Yohan Cabaye.
He had done little of substance yet headed straight down the tunnel in an act of petulance not commensurate with his contribution. With their Premier League life in such peril, Newcastle need less of those sort of characters and more in the mould of their captain. Keeping him here has never been so vital.