IT IS the image that sums up Newcastle United’s midwinter of discontent.
A sodden Davide Santon was pictured on Sunday gazing apologetically towards the massed ranks of travelling support at Southampton, his palms outstretched as he tries to convey his remorse at the performance that has gone before.
There is an honesty about the gesture, and an irony too, for he was one of Newcastle’s better players on the darkest day of the Alan Pardew era. There is also a helplessness that is unsettling, for it sums up the way a beleaguered United’s season seems to be spiralling out of control.
Yesterday, the message emerging from the camp was a defiant one. Pardew made a reference to not “sitting on their hands” while things don’t go for them, and bristled at talk of strengthening in the January transfer window. His focus, he contends, is on his current squad and what the group must do collectively to get out of their rut.
He said: “The bottom line is, as a football team you have problems and you have to acknowledge them otherwise you won’t solve them. We have looked at all the problems we have, including set-plays, and we are going to have to change and work with a different team.
“A big creative force of this team is in the treatment room, Hatem (Ben Arfa) and (Yohan) Cabaye are two big players for us in terms of imagination. You cannot suddenly say to a team to start delivering the type of imagination those two offer us. So we have to come up with a different game plan to win games.
“The link between the attack and midfield has been a problem for us, and in terms of the opposition, playing Stoke is not ideal if you want to get that going again because the game is a stop-start game.
“We coped well with that last year and I don’t think we are taking a very different team to the one we took last year. We have looked back at that game and I still think we can get a result.”
This was Pardew attempting to get a grip of the situation again, and sounding darned convincing in the process.
He has always coped well in a crisis, sounding the right note while restlessness rises around him. But the difference between this crisis and the others that he has confronted with aplomb is the feeling that this might be one that has much to do with his own decisions and strategies.
He galvanised supporters after the Andy Carroll sale and the contentious upheaval of last summer because it felt like the board was taking those big decisions. This time, it is the manager and his players fully facing the flak for the first time.
If it seems absurd to be asking such searching questions of a boss who picked up the manager of the year accolades in May, it is just a symptom of a game that is now analysed from all angles in much greater depth than before. That is a curse for a manager like Pardew but also a blessing when things are going well. Correctly, he accepts it is an inevitability.
He said: “The new medium of Twitter and Facebooking is accelerating the process of putting pressure on managers. We’ve got it here, we’ve lost three games and it’s starting to build here – very, very quickly.
“It’s very, very difficult but we have to deal with it, it’s our job and I think the most important thing is to focus on our teams and what we can do. Now we’ve got some improving to do, there’s no doubt about that. Not just myself and my coaching team but my players as well – we’re conscious we need to do that quickly.”
It is a similar message from the dressing room, where the man pictured apologising at Southampton is adamant that the team are not cowering away from their problems.
“Of course people will say that we’re in a relegation fight, it’s natural.
“We have a little bit of pressure and when you look at the table there is now only four or five teams between us and the bottom. Three points is really important for the season, the mentality and for moving forward. It’s difficult for everybody when we are playing like this but everyone needs to help.
“Every player, every staff member and every fan needs to help to get out of this trouble. If that happens, I am confident we will get out of the trouble we’re in.” Pardew talked of the “psychological” effect of big players like Fabricio Coloccini missing games, and Santon was candid enough to admit that the constant shuffling of the pack has had an effect.
“At this point we have many players who are injured and we change the team all the time, it is difficult to know who is going to play even as players,” he said.
“We’ve had Coloccini out, Cheick (Tioté), Cabaye, Ben Arfa – so it is difficult for us. We just have had a bad year with injuries, but at least we have Coloccini coming back, which is very important for us. It feels as if when one player comes in, another will go out.”
Having spent the morning defending “high balls into the box”, Santon is adamant that Newcastle are ready. The time for apologies, he says, is over.
“I had to say sorry to the supporters on Sunday because the fans are fantastic,” he said.
“Every game they are with us, every game they support us, but we did not do enough on Sunday. It is a bad period for us and they are going through it with us, so I wanted to go over and say sorry, not just clap them. We have to win at Stoke for those people.”