THE best way to describe the continuing relationship between the board and manager at Newcastle United is robust.
Robust because – as Alan Pardew insists – they remain a “massive support” despite a damaging run of four straight Premier League defeats. But sturdy as those relations remain in spite of some local difficulties, the word “robust” could also be applied to the regular conversations that take place between Derek Llambias and Pardew (pictured).
Mike Ashley is a demanding employer, as Pardew himself confessed when he signed his eight-year deal back in September. “In Mike’s mind it’s ‘You better do well’,” he said at the time, before quipping that the owner’s expectations are a victory every week.
So when Pardew’s phone rang this week for a post-Potteries debrief, the content was an unsurprising mix of the searching and the supportive.
“I don’t think demanding is the word, the word from the boardroom is concern. We want to get going again and obviously to do well,” Pardew said. “They’ve given me massive support this week in trying to help me get the result I want, almost asking me ‘What can they do for me?’ At the minute there’s not much they can do for me. Little things here and there could help but they’ve been very forthcoming in that.”
Of all the issues that Pardew is looking to face down at the moment, his own employment prospects should not be exercising his mind unduly.
It is not that there is complacency, for Pardew admits his eight-year contract is as much symbolic as practical.
He recognises that it is no guarantee that he will get eight years to complete his transformation of Newcastle in the image that he craves – but that fact is it does protect him against some of the wilder speculation that seems to surround his managerial colleagues. Similarly, the restlessness of those at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates has not manifested itself among the Newcastle support, who responded to the defeat at Stoke with a hearty round of applause rather than cat-calls.
That pleased Pardew, who warms to the theme that Newcastle are engaged in an eight-year project, not an eight-week one.
“Absolutely,” he says. “Unfortunately for us we’ve had a real turn of events in terms of injuries,” he said. “I can’t think of a Premier League club in the last couple of years that has suffered as badly as we have in terms of (injuries to) key players. You can almost look in every position.
“People are asking me about the window and what am I going to do, but you could argue we’re weak in every position through injury. Ryan Taylor at full-back, Haris (Vuckic), Dan Gosling and Yohan Cabaye in the midfield, Shola (Ameobi), Papiss (Cissé) and Demba (Ba) missing, (Gabriel) Obertan and Hatem (Ben Arfa) out wide.”
The patience of Newcastle’s fans has been pleasing, and it is appreciated in the dugout – where Pardew is desperate to repay with them with a victory against Wigan this evening.
“I think you have to earn the right to be able to cope with defeats,” he added.
“The way the media is makes it very, very difficult to stomach four defeats but from my point of view I have to look past that.
“Every manager worth his salt can’t focus on that, they must focus on the next game. I haven’t given a thought to Bordeaux. I’ve not looked at one clip of them: it doesn’t interest me until we’ve gone past Wigan. That’s where we are.” Having said that Pardew has reasons to be thankful for the board’s approach, there is also the thorny issue of the January transfer window and the fact that he needs their backing in that to resurrect this season.
Privately, Pardew will hope to reverse Ashley’s original planning – which was for possibly only a right-back to be brought in during the turn of the year.
Injuries may force his hand as regards a striker and a centre-back, but Pardew feels it is pointless to talk too much about possible targets while the more pressing business of getting the season back on track remains. He said: “In my view, the January window isn’t something we can focus on at the minute in terms of a target.
“We have to keep our eye on every position and make sure that in January we react to who we get back because one or two will come back, for sure. Hatem will be back, Obertan will be back, Shola will be back this weekend.
“I do expect that when we go to Fulham I’ll be in a lot stronger state than I am for Wigan and then we’ll react from that.”
James Perch misses out today, opening the way for Sammy Ameobi to return to the fray on the right of the midfield – which is where Vurnon Anita was stationed at Stoke. Hatem Ben Arfa, who is much-missed, will have to wait until Fulham for his return.
Apart from that, Pardew anticipates no more changes – either tactical or technical – for the visit of a Wigan team that can be dangerously unpredictable opponents. “We’ve had our inquest after the second defeat,” he said.
“As I said last week we’ve changed some things and I think they seemed to work at Stoke. We’ll continue down that vein now – we haven’t changed anything from our preparation for Stoke and that’s how we’re going to go along now, hopefully to get ourselves a win.”