Alan Pardew is going Down Under to try and turn Newcastle’s season around. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports
BEFORE sinking their teeth into the Swans on Saturday, Alan Pardew made his players and staff take a bite out of something altogether less inviting yesterday afternoon.
Somewhat appropriately given the tribulations of the West Ham game, Pardew put his players through a different kind of trial.
With the Benton training base turned into the Outback for the day, Newcastle welcomed bugs, snakes, beetles and a tarantula into the club canteen for a day inspired by the return of cult TV show I’m A Celebrity.
And while ‘bush tucker’ like kangaroo’s testicles might not be the approved diet of professional athletes, United’s very own version of the reality programme seemed to go down a treat with a squad who have been suffering in silence since Sunday’s dismal reverse to Sam Allardyce’s Hammers.
The idea was in keeping with United’s canteen ‘theme days’ that went down so well with the cosmopolitan squad last year.
‘Australia Day’ was originally dreamt up to commemorate the start of Curtis Good’s Newcastle career but ended up with Steven Taylor – Saturday’s captain, no less – chasing confirmed arachnophobe Andy Woodman with the shedded skin of a spider and groundsman Mick Curran winning a bush tucker trial against young defender Michael Riley. Given the smiles on the faces of the players as they filed out after training, it succeeded in lifting the sombre mood of a squad suffering from the exertions of a Europa League campaign.
Pardew explained: “Ant and Dec are big fans of Newcastle so in their honour we had bit of a bush tucker trial.
“People have been running out of the door like Andy Woodman. Steven Taylor was putting hairy spiders on everyone. It’s been fun.
“We have not had the best of weeks after last weekend’s performance and result, so it has been a nice morning.
“I had a little hold of the iguana, the spider.
“I didn’t eat anything though. We are all brave when it is on the telly but when the hairy spiders are there in front of you it’s a bit different.”
All very entertaining. But when the serious stuff starts again tomorrow, will the Newcastle manager be the one screaming ‘get me out of here’?
He might be if United struggle to topple a Swansea team that must be vanquished if Newcastle are going to kick-start a season that hasn’t really got going yet.
Pardew acknowledges that things have occasionally been tough in front of their own supporters and has called for a scratch team to “entertain” the public tomorrow.
“I think it’s important that we give our fans some entertainment that’s going to lift them because our home form hasn’t been great,” he said. “We’ve nicked a couple of wins, but we’ve had injuries and again this weekend we’re going to be scratching around a little bit in terms of our senior players because three or four are going to be missing.
“Jonás (Gutiérrez) is going to be missing, (Yohan) Cabaye will be, (Fabricio) Coloccini will be missing.
“It’s important that we have extra resolve and get a win.”
The Swansea match kicks off a hectic period for Newcastle that will do much to decide where this season is going. Pardew called it a “big week”. “I think we’ve got four games in nine days form Saturday,” he said.
“It’s a tough schedule for us and we’re feeling the pressure of that with the injuries we’ve got at the moment and the squad depth and we’re going to have to make sure we come through this period stronger with some solid results.
“It’s a big week for us.”
It hardly helps that there is doubt over whether Papiss Cissé will play, with the Senegalese FA angry that he did not join up with them for their mid-week friendly in Niger. Pardew defended Newcastle’s approach on the striker, insisting that they’d done everything they could to straighten out the situation.
He said: “We give a report and an e-mail straight after the game that at half-time he was feeling his back and we took him off the pitch.
“We also sent reports of the injury, or the doctor did.
“We didn’t, as far as I’m aware, get too much information back and now it seems Senegal are upset that he didn’t appear for them.
“Somewhere down the line something appears to have been lost in translation here, so we’ll try and sort something out today.
“Hopefully it’ll be clear for Papiss to play on Saturday and clear for him to continue for Senegal going forward because I don’t think anybody wants bad feeling.”
But there was better news about Gutierréz. There had been speculation that he would miss a couple of months after an errant Tweet sent by his sister, but Newcastle believe he will be back for the next Premier League game.
Pardew explained: “He feels good about the knee. This Saturday we should protect him but he has a decent chance for Southampton.”