...here we are, almost twelve months on, and Alan Pardew has become the most unlikely messiah to lead Newcastle back up the league table...
The return of Kevin Keegan back to Newcastle in 2008 signalled the return of the messiah who was destined bring the club back to those heady days of title challenges, thrilling attacking football and Newcastle Brown Ale - well forget about the last one. It was as if all the prayers in Newcastle had been answered. In the end they weren’t as the Second Coming turned out to be more of a hellish nightmare that saw Keegan's feeble exit and contributed to the club’s embarrassing relegation in 08/09. However, relegation may have been the best thing to happen to Newcastle as they impressively achieved promotion at the first time of asking under Chris Hughton however, a storm was coming.
December 2010 brought anger and outrage to Newcastle and the cold snap wasn’t to blame - no, it was Mike ‘Scrooge’ Ashley doing his usual pantomime villain act by giving the tremendously like-able and popular Hughton the sack. The Georgies were not happy as Hughton had only recently cemented himself into Toon folklore after leading Newcastle to an incredible four goal hammering of their fierce rivals Sunderland. Furthermore, to believe they were in any way happy with his eventual replacement - Alan Pardew - would be as delusional as believing that Michael Owen holds his time at Newcastle close to his heart.
Alan Pardew arrived with a pretty decent if not exciting resume with managerial experience at various levels in English football. Most significantly he returned West Ham to the Premier League, brought them to within a whisker of winning the FA Cup in 2006, and most recently won the 2010 Football League Trophy with Southampton. Pardew arrived at Newcastle with little fanfare, telling the disappointed and disillusioned fans that he’d been told by many not to go near the job in an odd attempt to endure himself to the Geordies. Most probably doubted he’d last too long under the Mike Ashley regime as trigger-happy Ashley had already dispatched Hughton and particularly the self-proclaimed saviour of Real Madrid Sam Allardyce. But here we are, almost twelve months on, and Alan Pardew has become the most unlikely messiah to lead Newcastle back up the league table with a mean defence, a tremendous midfield and a potent forward line.
Pardew began life in the North East with a win at home against Liverpool, a five-nil battering of West Ham, and produced probably the most ridiculous comeback ever seen in the modern era when they came from four nil down to Arsenal at half time to draw four-all. Newcastle finished twelfth which was pretty respectable seen as Pardew only arrived halfway through the season. Andy Carroll had been terrorizing defences (up until January), Joey Barton was playing the football of his career, and Kevin Nolan was churning out some fantastic performances and a fair amount of goals. By the start of this season Newcastle no longer had any of these key players and their recruits were relatively unknown or untested. To the disgust of many the money earned through Andy Carroll’s hilariously overpriced transfer fee seemed to be forgotten by the club. The new signings included Yohan Cabaye from Lille, Demba Ba from West Ham (for free), and Gabriel Obertan from Man Utd. These signings did not instil much optimism however, twelve games in and Newcastle are flying high ahead of the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Pardew has built a highly organized, physical and pacey side. Ba is terrorizing defences and has racked up eight goals so far, including two hat-tricks. He has struck up a fine partnership with Leon Best thus easing the threat of actually having to consider Nile Ranger. Yohan Cabaye is proving to be one of the transfers of the season so far with his technique and creativity in midfield. His partnership with the brilliant Cheick Tiote complements the creative side with the tough tackling side and has been dominant in all the matches they’ve played together so far.
The defence has been the most impressive feature of Pardew’s work this season. The centre-back partnership between Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini has been absolutely rock solid in defence and extremely dangerous going forward. Tim Krul continues to impress in goal and has shown that he has the ability to be a Shay Given-type figure for the club. Danny Simpson and particularly Ryan Taylor who has been keeping new signing Davide Santon from Inter Milan on the subs bench, have been outstanding in defence and attack. Newcastle have the joint top defensive record in the league which is quite astonishing given that in recent seasons their defensive disasters became as common as Mario Ballotelli’s attempts at becoming the most insane footballer since Gazza. The Man City defeat brought an end to the unbeaten run, but almost a year on since his arrival and Alan Pardew is the new Messiah for the Geordies.