IN the grand scheme of things, five games without a win is a pretty minor bump in the road for Alan Pardew.
This year has brought the sale of his star striker, a very public digital row between his most high-profile player and his employers, the renaming of the city’s grand stadium, the departure of his highly influential captain and a failure to land a replacement for Andy Carroll that left many supporters fearing the worst.
Chuck in a few of the secondary issues – a hugely disruptive injury to Steven Taylor, a testing tour of America and Hatem Ben Arfa’s fitness woes – and you might think it would be a year that Pardew was glad to see the back of.
Not a bit of it. For all the crises chucked the Newcastle manager’s way - and the current blip is another one to resolve – he has kept his eyes very firmly trained on the “bigger picture”.
And the wider perspective for Newcastle United is that they are way ahead of where they were 12 months ago, with a more flexible, attractive style and a squad much more at ease with itself than the one that ushered in the start of a New Year.
Personally, Pardew has turned around public opinion with results and a tactical fluidity that has convinced Newcastle supporters he is no-one’s casino cronie – the unfair accusation laid at his door when he first took over.
The pace of progress has been more rapid than he could have hoped for.
“It’s been a fantastic year,” he said. “It’s more than I could have hoped for in terms of where we are.
“You know people will look at our recent run and they don’t actually look at the bigger picture.
“We’re in a fantastic position in the league, we’ve still got some good games coming up and it’s all there for us. We’re just rolling on. We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be, for sure.”
Pardew bristled at suggestions that the visit of West Brom represented a “must-win” match in the pre-match briefing. Standing seventh in the league with festive fixtures that could yield points, it is an understandable approach from a manager who is adamant that his best team could be a match for anyone in the Premier League.
Asked whether he felt progress could be secured this quickly when he took over, his response is honest enough. Having made the jump from relegation battle to the top 10 though, he is now hungry for more. ‘Sixth or seventh’ position is the aim.
“We didn’t think we’d be in this position,” he said. “When you’re lying second in the league, with the budget we’ve got, to try and stay there is totally unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to aim for those heights. We want to keep up there in sixth or seventh.
“We’ve had some bad fortune with injuries because when we played against the best teams we didn’t have out best team.
“When we went to Norwich we were in the unusual position of having our three main first-choice centre-halves out injured. But it does turn around and when we get our best team we are competitive.”
The optimist in Pardew hopes that his best team is strengthened in January rather than depleted by the departure of Cheick Tiote or Tim Krul.
But it appears increasingly clear that United will resist the temptation to bring in a striker in January following the collapse of Modibo Maiga’s switch from Sochaux.
Asked whether a defender or striker was his priority, Pardew’s clear preference was the former.
Further questioned on whether that was a reflection of his faith in Demba Ba and the other strikers, Pardew agreed.
“Yes (it is) and I think Demba Ba’s all-round ability in terms of goals and everything he has given us has been a real big bonus this year,” he said.
“If I knew he’d perform to that level he would have got the number nine shirt. I think even on Saturday a couple of things he did were exceptional.
“We have a real talent there and we will miss him for the African Cup of Nations.
“We’re going to look at the guys who did well for us last year. If a striker comes in this next window, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Could Ba take the fabled number nine shirt next season?
“I don’t know. Players get attached to a shirt and they get superstitious. I don’t think he wants it, but we’ll see.”
Contracts are another issued to be solved next month.
Fabricio Coloccini’s continues to “bubble along”, while Danny Simpson has told Pardew he wants to stay despite talks being mothballed until the summer. The defender repeated his assertion that he is desperate to stay yesterday.
“I know the manager wants me to stay and I want to stay too. I’m confident that we will get something sorted in the summer because we both want the same things,” Simpson said.
“People are getting a bit worked up because the contract has not been signed yet, but these things take time to finalise. It’s just a little bit disappointing that news of my talks have come out, but deals are never done quickly.”