Alan Pardew has been delighted to be able to allow his players a proper Christmas this year after banning any festivities 12 months ago.
December 2012 was a difficult time for Newcastle United and their manager who now admits to privately having been deeply concerned about how his squad would cope with the strains of European football.
On Boxing Day last year, Newcastle conceded four goals to Manchester United and then seven at Arsenal three days later as they slipped closer to the relegation zone, a position they failed to properly get out of in the second half of the season.
However, a year on and Pardew is more Santa than Scrooge after as good a run of results and performances as he’s enjoyed in three years on Tyneside.
His team travel to struggling Crystal Palace today knowing a win would seem the retain sixth place in the Premier League. The atmosphere around the club is much improved from a year ago when things began to unravel.
Pardew said: “It’s a very different Christmas this time around. In fact we cancelled Christmas last year. There were some warning signs for us this time last year, that our schedule was going to be tough and we had a couple of key injuries and our results weren’t particularly great.
“That’s the problem in this period. The games come thick and fast and you don’t even have time to recover.
“Certainly, coming into it after the Europa League programme, which ended last week for Swansea and Spurs and then bang you’re straight into this. It’s tough and it hurt us last year for sure. We can enjoy Christmas a bit more this time around, we have just had our Christmas lunch at the training ground, and the chef did a marvellous job.
“I even had some brandy butter and that wasn’t even on the menu 12 months ago. That’s all I can tell you! We had to win some games first.”
Pardew can now afford to look back on 2013, a year that had a little bit of everything, even by Newcastle United’s strange standards.
The manager admitted recently that feared the sack at the end of last season.
Relegation had been a real possibility until the penultimate weekend of the campaign and while the Europa League run had been fun, it certainly didn’t help his league campaign.
Pardew said: “We had a strange end to last season where we had some real highs. The Benfica games (the quarter-final) being the leading example.
“We then had some real lows as well. The biggest problems for us were tiredness and injury to the group. In the second half of the year, what with the preparation we’ve had and no Europa League, you can see the difference. On reflection you say that the Europa League has a massive impact. There’s been a response to what happened last year.
“But I genuinely felt that we were being a little bit harshly treated in terms of five new players coming in during the transfer window.
“They needed to settle in and when you consider injuries to key players, along with the Europa League, and the impact it had by that time, there was a little bit of a loss of confidence.
“But when we got to the summer and looked back to the business we’d done, I in particular felt that there wasn’t a lot wrong.”
Pardew would like to add to his squad next month, but there is no guarantee that will happen.
This would dismay the fans and would mean Newcastle becoming quite possibly the first Premier League club to go through successive transfers windows without spending a penny on a permanent transfer.
On the flip side, the five French players signed last January have all made an impact.
Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran have been magnificent this season, while Moussa Sissoko has picked up his form in recent games. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara have proved fine alternatives. Pardew said: “We just had to tweak it a little bit and then I thought we could get it going again and we’ve managed to do that, so far because obviously there’s a long way to go this season. I’ve been really pleased with the attitude and application shown. The guys have settled in now and they’re looking a lot stronger.
“I look at Tottenham’s position where the manager has just lost his job. What did they bring in? Eight players? It’s very, very difficult to bring in so many new faces to make it gel. It’s difficult for all the other players as well, not just the manager, but for everybody.”
It’s something I’m pleased about, because I like to think that when we reflect on that January window, it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction.
“We needed some players, but we went and got players that we knew. I think that’s worked out well and that’s great credit to everybody at the club.”