Alan Pardew is set for an uncomfortable end-of-season inquest with owner Mike Ashley if the club dip below the top-10 target that was handed to him as a minimum requirement of this campaign.
Pardew, who believes his relationship with Ashley was strengthened by his the owner’s support during his touchline ban, has privately talked of his confidence that a summer recruitment drive will give him fresh impetus for next season, but it is understood that his role is coming under increased scrutiny as Newcastle’s end-of-season form shows no signs of improving.
Falling below the top-10 target – which would see the club miss out on their scheduled bonus – would leave him vulnerable and facing questions from Ashley, who has held a series of meetings about possible summer recruits with the manager and other key officials in recent weeks.
The Newcastle owner has not given any indication to the manager that his job is under threat, but Pardew was carpeted earlier in the season for comments made in a Sky interview – and he admitted after the Swansea loss that failing to finish in the top 10 would be “damaging” for the club.
One thing is for certain – it will be a matter of urgency for Pardew and his coaching staff to tick that box as he heads into a huge summer.
However, the United manager knows he is up against it with Papiss Cisse confirmed as out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and Loic Remy’s participation in the run-in also in doubt. Pardew has already hinted that his French internationals are reluctant to risk injury with the World Cup in Brazil so close, but that is no help to the manager and hardly placates supporters concerned about a lack of fight within the group.
Pardew’s hope is that he can achieve a top-10 finish and get to an important summer in which he hopes to bring in younger, hungrier players while selling Hatem Ben Arfa, who has become a thorn in the manager’s side.
Ben Arfa’s stock declined after he failed to respond to the club’s attempts to hand him a new contract in the summer, but there was still a hope among the hierarchy that he could reach the heights of previous seasons. A lack of trust between the player and manager has undermined any of those hopes.
Pardew had a heated row with the player after the Manchester United match but does not want to rule Ben Arfa out of the run-in, partly because he wants to protect the French winger’s value in the summer window.
Ben Arfa is currently back in France nursing an injury but appears to have little future at St James’ Park. It is not just Pardew who harbours concerns about his attitude and condition.
Pardew is understood to be concerned at a lack of leadership in the squad and had proposed a contract extension for Shola Ameobi, with the possibility of the striker being given a coaching role.
However, that is understood to have been knocked back, with Newcastle’s hierarchy preferring to refresh the squad in the summer and bring in new talent.
That means that even though he is set for an extended run in the team Ameobi’s goal at St James’ Park on Saturday may well be his last in a black-and-white shirt.
“It doesn’t mean anything. Ultimately, and this is the way I’ve always seen it, it’s about winning games,” he said after his strike at the weekend.
“I don’t care who scores, really. I’ve always been like that, which is probably to my detriment. It’s about winning games. That’s where I get ultimate satisfaction – knowing I’ve helped the team. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened.”
After the game, Mathieu Debuchy admitted that losing five times in a row was “unacceptable” for Newcastle.
Champions League-chasing Arsenal are a daunting challenge next Monday for a team that have not won on their travels since a 4-1 win over Hull.
“I have never known five defeats in a row,” the defender admitted on Saturday.