Newcastle crisis a test of faith for Ashley and Pardew

The manager was handed an eight-year contract in September yet, after a four-game losing streak, the heroics of last season are quickly coming back to haunt the club
By Andrew Kennedy

Newcastle enter Monday's clash with Wigan in a vein of form which mirrors that of their relegation from the top flight in 2009. Lose against the Latics and Alan Pardew will have overseen the Magpies' worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign.

Such a demise is a far cry from the expectation and progression that saw Pardew handed an eight-year contract at the club just over two months previously, in late September.

Now, after a season in which Newcastle qualified for the Europa League and were subsequently touted to gatecrash the top four this year, their manager is already warning his players that a return to the Championship may beckon, with his side taking just 14 points from their opening 14 games.

"We are now [in a relegation battle], and no, it's not too early," he said on Thursday. "We can't bury our heads in the sand and we have to get wins to get out of it."

Newcastle's poor form
Nov 4
1-1 v Liverpool (A)
Nov 8
2-2 v Club Brugge (A)
Nov 11
0-1 v West Ham (H)
Nov 17
1-2 v Swansea City (H)
Nov 22
1-1 v Maritimo (H)
Nov 25
0-2 v Southampton (A)
Nov 28
1-2 v Stoke City (A)
This is the first real test of Pardew's mettle in the North East since his arrival in December 2010. Injuries to Yohan Cabaye, Steven and Ryan Taylor, as well as untimely suspensions for Chiekh Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini earlier in the campaign, have seen the 51-year-old's managerial credentials come under scrutiny.

Long before the current rot set in, locals were frustrated by uninspiring performances and the tactics that he employed, particularly in comparison to the heroics of the preceding campaign.

The former Southampton boss remains committed to a 4-4-2 system and the Magpies are also one of the league's worst long-ball offenders, although that does not extend to flooding the box with crosses from wide despite the presence of two accomplished strikers in Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.

The result? Newcastle's forward men look static and quickly run out of ideas, with the supremely talented Hatem Ben Arfa relied upon for inspiration far too often.

Yet, having lost their last four league outings and also winning just once since Pardew put pen to paper on his new deal, it is more than just form that must be addressed at St James' Park in the coming weeks.

Following the visit of Roberto Martinez's men, Newcastle travel to Bordeaux for their final group-stage game of the Europa League and the continent's secondary competition has, unsurprisingly, proved a burden on the club's domestic output.

Newcastle boss Pardew admits that only signing Vurnon Anita in the summer may have been too conservative a transfer policy

A lack of injuries last season ensured that a relatively thin squad was never exposed. This year, a lack of foresight which saw just one first-team arrival in Vurnon Anita has ensured that no such deficiencies have been masked, a fact noted by Pardew himself on Sunday.

Such a policy raises the question of whether Newcastle even wanted qualification in the first place?

Their rise up the table was ahead of the curve planned out by owner Mike Ashley and, despite the Europa League failing to provide the financial means needed for an influx of players, he has shown no intention to break from the stringent business plan which has put the club on course to break even.

In January, surely the club will act. If not, they risk missing out on a slice of next season's bumper £3 billion TV deal - a party that should make even Ashley loosen the purse strings to ensure an invite.

15/2 Newcastle are 15/2 with Bet365 to lose 2-0 away to Bordeaux in the Europa League
Just as he refuses to be hasty in the transfer market, the Sports Direct magnate is likely to take the same approach to Pardew. Overachievement last year may have risen the bar for fans but the club's hierarchy remain realistic, with a top-eight finish reportedly their target - one that is still in Newcastle's grasp.

The length of the contract handed to the manager sent out the message that the Ashley regime will not be swayed by short-term fluctuation's in form. They will back Pardew and, in turn, he has accepted the tight budget constraints laid out before him.

"You can't keep changing your manager if he has a bad run - it doesn't make any sense at all," managing director Derek Llambias said in September. "We just want to break that mould in football. Eight years ... this is where we've got to be."

Such words will reassure Pardew of his position. Fail to beat Wigan, however, and it will be Ashley's resolve that comes under scrutiny.

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