Grieving Magpies

The sad truth: even relegated QPR walk over Newcastle.

 

It happened again this weekend. Groundhog Day. Or, as they call it on Twitter, ‘#SSDD’ – ‘Same Shit, Different Day’. Winter turned into a spring, Memphis Depay confirmed he’ll be switching clubs this summer, Real Madrid’s BBC trio went from being a lethal weapon to wasting dozens of chances every game, but one thing remained all the same. Newcastle United. Or, to elaborate: Newcastle United and their ungodly bad, appalling, Championship-quality form. Saturday was yet another example of it: 1-2 away loss to Queens Park Rangers – the same QPR that already got relegated, remained at the bottom of the table and fought only to save their dignity after an abysmal campaign. Well, newsflash: even though The Hoops should be embarrassed for dropping down despite having reportedly strong financial backbone (#8 highest wage bill in England!), they still keep more credibility than Magpies do. After all, the numbers are crushing for Geordie side: 9 defeats and one draw in the last 10 EPL games; only 6 goals scored since March; 23 goals conceded. Fifth consecutive loss in a prestigious derby against local rivals Sunderland. Four idiotic red cards shown to NUFC’s players for letting out their frustration on their rivals when it was already too late to do at the footballing department. And on, and on, and on…

On paper, this all should not be happening. Financially, Newcastle are a decent club and their fans are among the most die-hard footballing crowds in England, consistently filling up St. James’ Park regardless of how awful results the team produces. Even NUFC’s squad doesn’t look that bad. The team might not have the technical quality of top EPL sides, but the athleticism of their leaders: Moussa Sissoko, Papiss Cissé and Cheick Tioté should normally be enough to scrape few hard-fought victories against equally uninspiring sides that fill Premier League’s bottom half of the table. Other than that, Magpies can always count on their Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul, who’s been a hero of World Cup’s quarterfinal when he was subbed in by Louis van Gaal exclusively to handle the penalty shootout. Before this season, faced with several departures, the team has been strengthened with transfers of Rémy Cabella and Daryl Janmaat – two internationals who both proved themselves in their previous clubs. The acquisition of Segunda Division top talent Ayoze Pérez, who ditched Real Madrid and Barcelona’s interest and moved to Northern England instead, looked like a reasonable choice too. Various media sources predicted the club to finish the season between #8 and #15 – well above the current position.

 

To be fair to Newcastle lads: for a long time, it looked like those expectations are going to be met with good results. Pre-season wins over Schalke and Sociedad seemed promising. Then, they’ve started their current league run with three defeats and four draws in first seven games before something inexplicable happened. After Gabriel Obertan secured them a late winner in a home game against Leicester City, Magpies suddenly switched into a fifth gear and proceeded to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane, Man City at Ettihad and Liverpool at home! Right-back Janmaat and midfield workhorse Sissoko rose to be the central players in Alan Pardew’s team and after two more wins – over WBA and QPR – Newcastle were fifth with 19 points: same amount as Manchester United and 2 points ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham. At the time, it seemed that Geordies will be those who are going to pave the road for Chelsea to reclaim the Premier League title – until, early in December, Chelsea themselves arrived to St. James’ Park and left it defeated 1-2, ending their dream of becoming the third Invincibles in history. Ultimately, it would’ve been a stretch to claim that NUFC were brilliant, but they produced the results against bigger teams – certainly a mark of a club that has the potential to finish in the top half of the table.

Today, while team is occupying the 17th spot and will likely stay up only by the virtue of Hull City not being able to score goals, one can only contemplate when it all went wrong. Of course, one of the most pivotal moments this season was the departure of Alan Pardew. The manager, who’s been under all kinds of criticism from press and fans this season, was eventually hijacked by Crystal Palace in their desperate bid to avoid relegation. The London club was so determined to get NUFC’s manager, they actually coughed up £3.5 million as a compensation for bringing him before the end of his contract at St. James’ Park. Although this move appeared to be a dubious gamble at best, it soon turned out that it works splendidly for The Eagles. Pardew, who collected the scalps of Man City and Liverpool earlier this season with Magpies, went on to beat those teams once again with his new team and at the moment maintains the record of 11 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw since he took charge at Selhurst Park – not bad for a side that only aimed to preserve their Premier League status and did so with couple fixtures to spare. At one point, Palace’s points-per game ratio jumped from 0.75 to 2.08 and if it wasn’t for Leicester City’s miraculous escape from the land of relegation, Pardew would’ve been credited as the mastermind of the biggest EPL comback in 2014-15 season.

 

Citizen Pardew: Happy to bail out of the sinking ship.

 

Meanwhile in Newcastle, the opinions were divided. Some fans expressed worries that the managerial change during the season will disrupt teams’ performance. Other – who were the majority – celebrated the departure of a man, who, stat-wise, has been a disastrous asset for NUFC. After all, during his spell at the Geordie club, Pardew led this team to concede more goals in the whole year 2014 than any other Premier League side – and to lose more games than any other EPL team too. Needless to say, with such records being on the table, literally nobody expected things to get even worse. Instead, people expected the appointment of a respectable new boss – someone who could lift the team up. Rumours ranged from Ajax Amsterdam’s Ronald de Boer, through names like Harry Redknapp or Tim Sherwood, to AS Saint-Étienne’s manager, Christophe Galtier. However, instead of choosing one of those proven managers for the job, Ashley decided to abstain from the decision, leaving the former assistant and current caretaker John Carver in charge until the summer. Four months later Carver, 50 years old, previously unsuccessful in charge of MLS outfit Toronto FC, has ‘repaid’ the credit he’s been given with total record of 2 wins, 3 draws and 13 defeats in all competitions, turning the mid-table comfort into a grotesque struggle for survival.

 

In hindsight, only two reasons for Mike Ashley’s indecisiveness seem plausible. First of all, the billionaire who has made over £542.6 million over just one transaction in April, has been constantly unwilling to spend any more money on NUFC than he absolutely had to. In this scenario, not appointing a proper manager was just another way of saving money, as clubs’ insider working as a caretaker position had no demands regarding transfer budget during the winter break. The other possibility is even more prosaic: to put it simply, all candidates for Newcastle job refused to accept the challenge – just as Steve McClaren recently did, when Magpies owner turned to him in search of an emergency solution. This explanation could hardly surprise anyone who’s been following club’s internal affairs. Ever since Kevin Keegan came out to media and spoke openly about the way he’s been treated by Ashley and the Former Managing Director Derek Llambias, United had the reputation of a club that does not back their manager up. The stories like 2008-09 relegation and the in-out presence of Joe Kinnear as a member of the backroom staff left even worse impression – and so did Keegan’s claim that club’s management forced him to sign players he did not want as a form of a ‘friendly deal’ with certain football agents.

Apart from that, anyone willing to jump on the hot seat at St. James’ Park would have to face enormous problems with the team itself. Krul, Janmaat and Sissoko have all turned out to be decent, but other than them, Newcastle had no reliable players this season. The newest French import in form of winger Rémy Cabella and striker Emmanuel Rivière have been particularly disappointing. Everything you need to know about the former was already written here; the latter needed over 18 hours in NUFC’s shit to finally score a single goal. At the same time, by letting go of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Magpies further weakened themselves at the back. This season’s first-choice player on this position – Coloccini and Williamson – failed their fans on a regular basis. Especially Williamson. This guy’s season has been summed up with a catastrophic performance against Leicester, where he first watched Ulloa nearly completing a hat-trick only to later foul Vardy near the side line and get sent off for a second yellow card. That game and 3-0 result for Foxes explained the difference between a weak team with ambition and a weak team only waiting for someone to put them out of this misery. Nigel Pearson’s boys are now safe and set to celebrate the success of their Mission Impossible – when, at the same time, Magpies contemplate how to win a game. Literally – a game.

What’s Carver’s take on this miserable trail of tears? Let’s let the man speak: “No side of mine will lack for effort in the derby” – he told us just prior to a 0-1 loss to Sunderland, in which his team played as if someone has just removed their balls. “We had energy and caused Liverpool some real problems” – he spoke, after the 0-2 at Anfield, later blaming the loss on a stonewall penalty that’s not been given to Magpies. “If I cast my mind back to Arsenal, we performed quite well without winning. ” – he summed up the 1-2 defeat to Gunners just before yet another defeat to Spurs. “I think I’m the best coach in the Premier League” – he said ahead of game against West Bromwich, in which his lads finally drew after suffering eight consecutive losses. “I still have the enthusiasm for it.” – he claimed after receiving a 0-3 spanking by Foxes. “We didn’t give up on it, we had a go and I can’t fault the lads for their effort again in a hot, warm climate.” – he explained the roots of most recent 1-2 defeat at Loftus Road, where his team faced the unbearable 18 degrees Celsius. ‘It could be the fans who keep us in the Premier League’ – he finally underlined just two days ago, referencing the West Ham game. Is this the guy who will lead Geordies to a win against Big Sam’s side? Because that’s what they need to avoid putting their fate in someone else’s hands.

Can they pull this off? Over the last couple of seasons, they’ve lost players like Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Loïc Rémy, Mathieu Debuchy or Davide Santon. They are all either bench warmers for stronger clubs or, like in Ba’s case, went off the grid by choosing second-rate European league. However, the presence of just one of those ex-Magpies next week would’ve been hundred times more reassuring than the necessity to field Jonas Gutierrez, Paul Dummett, Ryan Taylor or Rivière again. Still, the irony of the critical clash with West Ham next Sunday is that Geordies can lose that match and still stay up – the only condition is that Hull cannot beat Manchester United. According to the bookmakers, The Tigers are about twelve times more likely to drop than Newcastle – after all, they are two points behind with just one game to go. That would mean that despite being the most useless, pointless, gutless team in Premier League this spring, NUFC would’ve stayed up anyway. And what then? Recent gossip links Real Sociedad’s David Moyes linked with a job at St. James’ Park. Sounds good: a decent, experienced manager who led clubs up the ranks to promotions and who used to do a lot of solid, defensive coaching at Everton – the type of coaching Sissoko & Co. need urgently. Great. Alas, knowing Mike Ashley – perhaps too good of a rumour to be true?

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