Cardiff City 1 Newcastle United 2: Mark Douglas' big match verdict

Pinned into a corner by visible presence of Ashley and Kinnear at Newcastle games around the country, Pardew produced a blueprint which blew away the Bluebirds

Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy celebrate Newcastle United's goal against Cardiff City
Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy celebrate Newcastle United's goal against Cardiff City

Maybe there was method behind Mike Ashley’s mid-summer madness after all.

It is quite possible a form of skewed logic underscored his decision to appoint a director of football who was perceived to be a stalking horse for Alan Pardew.

After all, as we learned on an uplifting afternoon in South Wales for Newcastle United, intense pressure does tend to focus minds.

Pinned into a corner by the visible presence of Ashley and Joe Kinnear at Newcastle games around the country, Pardew produced a blueprint which blew away the Bluebirds.

That he constructed it by boldly dropping Hatem Ben Arfa was perhaps the proof Ashley required there is still plenty of life in Pardew’s stewardship of Newcastle United.

It was a risky call, not least because Ashley still regards the cut-price signing of Ben Arfa as one of the best deals brokered in his time at the club.

Even in the sanctity of the boardroom the owner has never professed to be a skilled football tactician but he wants to see the manager squeezing the best out of the players at his disposal – and having Ben Arfa on the bench would have been a jarring sight if Newcastle had struggled in South Wales.

As it transpired, United’s starting XI was fashioned into a system which allowed them to play with a freedom and fluidity which made Ben Arfa’s omission something of an irrelevance.

When Pardew later described the display as possibly the best of his three years at Newcastle, it was perhaps a reflection on the importance of the result as it was the pedigree of the performance.

Ashley’s presence was just part of the story in South Wales.

The cyber speculation which had crackled around Pardew in the run-up to this match lent a funereal atmosphere to the build-up and one theory had it defeat might have prompted Ashley to act ahead of a treacherous run of fixtures.

Dropping Ben Arfa merely added to the “end game” feel but Pardew’s lack of caution reversed the narrative. Three points do not banish the difficult questions but it felt like a significant moment.

Pardew acknowledged afterwards: “This is a big job and there’s a pressure which comes with it when you get two defeats on the trot – just like it does for Man United, just like it does for Aston Villa.

“The most important thing is to have a consistency of what you’re about and we did that. We went out and I said I wanted to make us more offensive.

“We didn’t back off and I was repaid for my boldness in a way.”

Later, the man with the thick South Wales burr asked Malky Mackay whether Cardiff’s dissection by one of the “run of the mill” Premier League clubs proved the strength-in-depth of the division.

The Cardiff boss bridled at the suggestion. “I don’t think I would regard Newcastle as run-of-the-mill. They’ve top players, that’s not fair at all,” he argued. That, in a roundabout way, gets right to the nub of Newcastle’s issues.

Unlike in 2009, this is not the rump of a once-successful team. Man-for-man it is arguably Newcastle’s strongest collection of players for a decade and Ashley’s logic for switching things up in the summer was that they should be performing better.

Whether inadvertently or with purpose, his summer decisions have made it more difficult for Pardew but they have also given the club a jolt.

Even if the manager responded to questions about his future with a cool sense of detachment on Saturday, he knew what the stakes were.

It brought out the best in him and John Carver, who celebrated lustily in front of the away fans after the final whistle.

Now the objective must be to transform this group into a team capable of Saturday’s potency on a more consistent basis.

That, you feel, will dictate whether Pardew’s position continues to be called into question.

It helped they had two French internationals who looked unplayable on Saturday.

Yohan Cabaye married endeavour and enterprise with steely determinaton to run the game from midfield while two-goal Loic Remy prompted legitimate comparisons with Thierry Henry.

After a hairy start – Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul got into a muddle whch almost let in Fraizer Campbell on three minutes – Newcastle grew in authority.

Davide Santon’s wonderfully weighted ball set up Papiss Cisse on five minutes but he took a touch too many.

Cisse’s travails continued in Cardiff but Remy has settled into life on Tyneside with ease.

He opened the scoring with a wonderful run and shot that fizzed past Marshall but his second strike was pure class. Pouncing on a rebound, he dissected the defence with a brilliantly placed shot.

Pardew added: “I actually was surprised he took the option he did. It was a real striker’s goal, he just slid it and it was inch perfect.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer