The Agenda: Misadventures off the field are starting to tell for Newcastle United

Where do Newcastle United go from here after Saturday's dreadful derby-day debacle? Chief sports writer Mark Douglas considers United's predicament after a terrible week came to a dark conclusion.

Perhaps Alan Pardew should have dedicated this one to Mike Ashley as well.

A few months ago, after masterminding a skilful defeat of Chelsea at St James’ Park, Pardew chose his moment to hail the club’s owner.

“That one was for Mike,” he chirped – before assuring us that, contrary to the evidence of five depressing years, Ashley was indeed a Newcastle “fan.”

Really, though, it was Saturday which was for Ashley, the “fan” who again dodged the stadium he has turned into a cauldron of seething frustration which always seems to be bubbling under the surface.

It is his crass handling of matters since August which has curdled Tyneside’s mood, his wrong-headed decision to hire Joe Kinnear – a man incapable of doing whatever job he was charged to do – which has created such a toxic atmosphere around St James’ Park.

For while Newcastle have crafted memorable victories this season, they do not shade the true picture of a mismanaged club paralysed by power struggles and suffering dreadfully for the lack of direction from an owner who has long since fallen out of love with the notion of turning it into a success.

Last week was a big one for Newcastle. The sale of Yohan Cabaye was an expected by-product of United’s failure to build on finishing in fifth place in 2012 but ‘club selling best player to mega-rich Champions League contenders’ is hardly unique to Tyneside.

Perhaps it is time to get forensic, though, and really start to explore the deal. Why was the deal concluded in such haste? What was Kinnear’s role in the transfer (if any)? Who gave the green light to it? Who was informed?

Most pressingly of all, what fee did Newcastle actually receive for Cabaye?

They are important questions at a club hampered by the power vacuum created by Kinnear’s apparent inability to get to grips with his wide-ranging role. They cut right to the heart of the problems which led directly to Saturday’s humiliation.

Newcastle’s failure to bring in a replacement for Cabaye was predictable but, again, we need to take a microscope to what actually happened. Did United ever make a convincing case to Lyon and Clement Grenier to bring their priority target to the North East?

One version presented is they made two bids – the first one having been waved away as “derisory.”

On Thursday and Friday it appears their transfer team – who that is, apart from influential club secretary Lee Charnley and supposedly Kinnear is unclear – made no attempt whatsoever to sign a player.

These are big questions and it is time to start joining the dots. Where is that Cabaye money going? Or are Newcastle again going to suggest last January’s acquisitions hammered such a hole in the budget the cash will be swallowed up?

From this vantage point, the message those transactions deliver is loud and clear.

To reprise the success they had in investing the Andy Carroll cash, Newcastle needed to act skilfully and with wit to secure the targets who had been painstakingly researched by their scouting network.

They needed to seize the moment. Yet Ashley has created a hierarchy whch cannot do that, which is a huge worry for the club moving forward.

It was always likely that, despite the time Pardew and the team had bought Kinnear and company over the mid-winter, there was a reckoning approaching. Saturday felt like that as a depressing week came to a dark and sorry conclusion.

How long it lasts is really up to Newcastle’s supporters now: Have they really reached the breaking point where they start to consider walking away?

Many thousands had done that long before the final whistle brought an end to the sorriest of Newastle performances in a fixture which, given their woeful FA Cup exit, was the one most likely to quicken the pulse.

Before we start to pick at the carcass of Newcastle’s abject derby performance, the league table has to be considered.

United are eighth, have won more away games than for the entirety of last season and the improvement which was demanded on last year’s sorry effort has been delivered and then some.

Pardew has constructed a system this season which, more often than not, has won him games.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have been vanquished and Manchester City were taken all the way at St James’ Park.

It does not mean he is not culpable for Saturday, though – or that he is undeserving of the questions which will come his way courtesy of a third straight derby defeat.

It was difficult to really see what the plan was for Newcastle as they struggled to live with a vibrant, confident Sunderland side.

Since they leapt into the Premier League under Roy Keane you would never have been able to say the Cats had the better midfield – but on Saturday they did.

That was partly down to Cabaye’s sale, of course, but also down to the way in which United consistently by-passed their engine room. Vurnon Anita will come good but posted a paltry contribution while Hatem Ben Arfa, a player Pardew does not trust, looked short on belief.

A talent like his sometimes has to be nurtured but you wonder whether the time for indulging him is drawing to a close. Either way, he is offering precious little at the moment.

It is assumed by many Pardew is bullet-proof at St James’ Park but that is far from the case.

Ashley’s appointment of Kinnear was not removed from the disappointment he felt not just at the results but also at comments he too should share the blame for a season which nearly ended in relegation.

It has been suggested the lack of permanent signings might just be representative of a lack of faith in the management too. If that is the case, then Ashley needs to stop playing games and paralysing the coaching staff because they are being hamstrung by what is going on.

It should not have escaped anyone’s attention on Saturday the club which has, belatedly, decided to empower its manager looked a darn sight healthier for it.

Sunderland stumbled from mistake to mistake in the fag end of the Martin O’Neill regime and chose the wrong men in Roberto De Fanti and Paolo Di Canio.

Ellis Short acted and brought in Gus Poyet, but still working within the same structure he had imposed on his Italian predecessor.

What he has done well is realise Poyet is the real deal and immediately freed him from the shackles of De Fanti.

The result of that has been a re-invigorated club who are in a major Cup final and seem to be heading for Premier League safety.

That is not to say Sunderland are a model club, or Newcastle United don’t do quite a lot of things much better than their rivals.

However, they must also acknowledge the status quo – or worse – will only lead to more days like Saturday for the Magpies, when the troubling developments off the pitch become only too apparent on it. Now, more than ever, it is time for change.


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