FOR Alan Pardew, this was close to the perfect storm. A numbing defeat to Reading in a must-win match was bad enough - the fact it was preceded by two of his contentious substitutions merely heightened the bubbling sense of rebellion on the terraces of St James' Park.
To then book-end a calamitous day by turning the focus on the “negative” vibes that were rebounding around the stadium after the second of his two changes was ill-advised. Newcastle United’s supporters are not the reason a club that finished fifth last season is now sinking towards its second bitter fight for survival in the last four years. They were not the reason why the Magpies lost this game, either.
That is a point that is worth making to the contemptible Nile Ranger. The alleged striker took to Twitter to tell certain supporters to stay away from the ground rather than cat-call, as if his lamentable contribution to the black-and-white cause had earned him the right to lecture United’s loyal following on how they should express their support for a cause many of them were born into.
His presence in the match-day squad, given his consistent and galling lack of professionalism since signing a five-year contract, is merely symptomatic of the miasma that is threatening to engulf United’s season.
It is a situation threatening to spiral out of control and desperately requires leadership this week. There is too much at stake for the campaign to continue to drift like this, and it does not take a long memory to sense the similarities with the last relegation suffered by United.
We are constantly told those were less unified times, but Newcastle are currently led by a captain whose desire to leave Tyneside is out in the open. Fabricio Coloccini’s future should have been sorted last week, but continues to hang heavily over a camp that is just as much in the dark as you or I.
Coloccini’s intentions are a boil that needs to be lanced before Aston Villa, just as United’s chronic lack of firepower and cutting edge needs to be. Some said that the presence of want-away Demba Ba in the United dressing room was corrosive. Two goals in four games since he left for the King’s Road riches suggests that his removal has hardly been the panacea it was painted as.
Never mind the two players Pardew (pictured left) said Newcastle needed last week: they need three or four senior arrivals. Even that comes with no guarantees, the flawed logic of United’s summer transfer strategy having been ruthlessly exposed.
United’s eighth defeat in 10 matches also put Pardew’s position under scrutiny for what seemed like the first time since he succeeded Chris Hughton. Before Saturday’s debacle the majority of the criticism for this damned campaign had been trained on Mike Ashley and the negotiating tactics that failed to equip the LMA manager of the year with sufficient tools to replicate last year’s heroics. The way this game was surrendered, though, placed the focus on the manager and several big calls that backfired. He clarified the Yohan Cabaye substitution by way of pointing out an injury to the midfielder, but that didn’t explain why Sylvain Marveaux – a creative force in the game – was hooked at such a pivotal point.
James Perch replaced Marveaux in a clear attempt to shut up shop as momentum swung behind the visitors. It failed to do that.