Jack: Pardew ensuring Magpies fly high into 2014

Kristian Jack
12/29/2013 3:07:03 PM
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The clock ticked towards the 94th minute.

On the side of the pitch, the pair bounced around with joy desperate to hear the full-time whistle.

There they were together, two key players dressed in the black and white of Newcastle, no training top on, smiling and gesticulating almost as much as the man in the suit next to them.

For anyone who'd not seen Newcastle for a while, watching Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse in this manner, deep into injury time of a game, they'd be perfectly right to presume the pair had left the match and were simply close to the bench having already done their hard work and been substituted.

The clock ticked towards the 95th minute.

Cisse's number nine then went up and on the striker ran. Eighteen seconds later, the final whistle was blown and Newcastle had won another game.

The mercurial Ben Arfa hadn't gotten across the white line while Cisse was nothing more than a time-wasting tool.

The man in the suit raised his arms, saluted the home fans and walked back down the tunnel.

This was no one else's Newcastle United but Alan Pardew.

The win over West Brom meant the manager had guided his team to a fourth straight victory in the Premier League, becoming just the second team to do so after Arsenal.

It had been a remarkable turnaround.

Exactly two months earlier, Pardew was in the away dressing room at Goodison Park on a wet Monday night facing a real crossroads as manager of Newcastle United.

He had watched his team get thumped 3-0 in the first half and defensively, they were a shambles. In the first five and a half matches of the Premier League season, they had scored five goals and conceded 11.

The game was lost and seven points from six games meant his team were heading down the path of last season, rather than the season previous. Pardew, desperate to find a way of seeing his team play like the one that finished fifth in 2011-12, knew he had to do something different.

Bringing on a not-so fully fit Yohan Cabaye was the easy decision. Removing Ben Arfa was not.

Cisse, who had started each of the first five games, had already tested the manager's patience and started the game on the bench for the first time.

Without Cisse and Ben Arfa, and inspired by Cabaye, Newcastle started the second half at Everton in fine form and would go on to lose the game, 3-2.

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"We have let the fans down but have gained a tiny bit of respect back for our performance in the second half," said Pardew that night.

In training the week following the loss, Pardew drew a line on their campaign and asked his team to start their season again.

Dating back to the start of last season, they had gained just 48 points from 44 matches.

In the summer between the years, his team had been ridiculed by the national media following the hire of director of football, Joe Kinnear, who embarrassed himself and the club in a radio interview where he mispronounced the names of some of the Newcastle players.

It was reported by many that Kinnear's hire, by owner Mike Ashley, added pressure on Pardew, who, despite having been given a staggering eight-year contract extension in September of 2012, had lost one of his supporters at the club when Kinnear replaced managing director Derek Llambias.

If Pardew's detractors needed an excuse to push him out of the door, the way the team under-performed for the majority of the first six matches handed them the card they needed.

Chief scout Graham Carr had helped Pardew assemble a good, if not great, Premier League squad by signing many French players, available in the transfer market for a very reasonable price compared to the cost of home-grown English players.

Last season, they struggled badly with Europa League demands testing their squad beyond its limits and had used 32 players in 38 Premier League games on the way to finishing a miserable 16th place on 41 points.

This season, there was no excuse.

Pardew, with his contract running up until 2020, was running out of time.

It was the biggest test of his managerial skills.

He responded by making big calls tactically and with personnel. Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran were asked to play wide, where they can provide attacking prowess and work hard on the flanks defensively, in a four-band tactical system that flipped between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.

There was no room for the part-time genius Ben Arfa.

Cisse was also sat down and Loic Remy was given the number one striker role and would keep it, even when he went through a long stretch without a goal.

Pushing aside two big personalities was a big call for Pardew to make but he knew he no longer could carry two passengers in the hope they might do something.

With the pair on the bench, success followed for Newcastle.

A win at Cardiff, a draw against Liverpool and a narrow loss to rivals Sunderland represented an improvement in October and then in November, the Magpies beat Chelsea, Tottenham, Norwich and West Brom. Twelve points from a possible 12 in October and, in total, 16 points from a possible 21 since the loss at Everton.

"Since the second half at Everton, we looked at ourselves and said come on, this ain't us, we had some difficulties last year, injuries, Europa League, but we are together this year, we are ready, let's not make the errors we are making. We won the second half at Everton and since we've been really strong," reflected Pardew after the win against West Brom.

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The three points had come from a side that had a genuine belief that they would win. When Chris Brunt leveled the game at 1-1 eight minutes after the break, the visitors went on to have their best period of the match. Yet, during this period, Newcastle scored the game's final goal. They had found a way to succeed when things were going against them.

A magnificent November has been followed up by an excellent December that featured three more wins, including one at Old Trafford, and a positive performance against Arsenal on Sunday, despite a narrow 1-0 loss.

"We've come out if it with our confidence renewed, even though we've lost," said a smiling Pardew.

The 52-year-old knew it was time to think about the bigger picture.

Exactly a year ago, the Magpies were exposed against Arsenal and been battered 7-3. This time, they were a much more organized unit, playing with a 4-3-3 shape that won at Manchester United and will prove to be difficult to break down for all of the top teams in the division.

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A shape that once again left Cisse and Ben Arfa on the bench.

For the first five-and-a-half games this season, the pair had combined to play 815 minutes of Premier League football (82 per cent).

In the 13-and-a-half games since, they have combined for just 621 minutes, a dramatic drop off to just 25.5 per cent.

Without them, Newcastle is a different team and Pardew is a different manager. He is far more relaxed in interviews than he once was, allowing his personality and his intelligent football brain to shine through.

Three months ago, his job at the club, and subsequently his reputation as a manager at a big club, was hanging by a thread. Now the second longest tenured manager in the Premier League looks as comfortable in the job as he ever did.

With enormous shadows in Kinnear and Ashley hanging over him, no one deserves the credit more for that than himself.

Whether or not he stays until 2020, as the contract suggests, remains a real question mark in the turbulent position of a football manager but as one of just four English managers in the Premier League, Pardew's turnaround in success at Newcastle is sure to have turned some heads at the FA.

The way he is going, it is no longer laughable to suggest Pardew could be England manager come 2020.

Whether or not he'll have the talent like Cisse and Ben Arfa to put on that bench is a different story altogether.

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