Newcastle United’s season heads towards a crossroads in South Wales this weekend. For one reason or another, it feels like an important fixture for Alan Pardew and the team which veers between fantastic and feeble – sometimes in the same game.
Whatever your opinion of Pardew, it is difficult not to feel he is being severely hamstrung by the constraints of the Newcastle United job.
While it can be accepted he took the role knowing only too well he would be the spokesperson of a regime prone to making unpopular and occasionally completely illogical decisions, it does not detract from the curious circumstances he is operating in.
Having petitioned all summer for more battle-hardened Premier League players, he got none.
His implication now is Mike Ashley and Kinnear are belatedly coming around to that view of things.
He wanted to keep James Perch but lost him as the club ploughed on with cost-cutting.
Pardew is not doing this job on his own terms, rather he is trying to pull together disparate elements of the club who seem to be heading in different directions.
It is dizzying and damaging and it feels like a recipe for friction and tension.
A credible Director of Football might be able to ease some of these problems – or even solve them.
The problem is Kinnear, who stays very, very close to Ashley when they are seen out in public, is neither credible or sufficiently independent to do this.
Some argue this is an irrelevance now the transfer window has shut.
Pardew is the man tasked with managing the team, sourcing a system, a philosophy and a formation and he should be doing better with the players at his disposal. Perhaps this is true, but the slow undermining of the manager hardly helps him. It is a slow and tortuous process which at times makes you wish the club’s owner would just back the manager or change him.
The limbo world of being supportive in principle but taking decisions which in practice seem to undermine him seems entirely illogical.
In the absence of that thought process, Pardew just gets on with the job.
Twitter crackled with two rumours this week - that he had offered his resignation on Monday night and that he had been sacked on Wednesday afternoon.
Neither was true and if this was to be his last address, it was a remarkably relaxed one. For while United’s inconsistency has been alarming this season, Pardew is supping from a cup which is half full.
He said: “We have talked about the consistency we will need in our season. We cannot have these up-and- down periods during games let alone between them.
“Like any team if you have not performed well you make changes and hopefully it turns the situation and it nearly did.
“The important thing was our determination and fight which was not good and the third goal compounded our problems.
“I have great respect for the players here and we have a good group, but the thing we are striving for is the same as everyone else: consistency. We are on the same points as Manchester United.
“Once you get to 10 to 12 games it settles.
“We were not at our best last season but I hope it will settle down for us. We have only just started the campaign and one win can take you considerably up the league.”
Fans might complain they have not seen a definitive break from last season’s poor form, but Pardew feels one thing has changed.
He added: “We try to set ourselves up more positively but that is no good if you are going to concede goals.
“We have to be tighter as a unit, work as one and if we do that we have goals.
“The thing I am leaning on is the difference from last year is we look like we have goals - and trust me scoring goals in the Premier League is difficult.
“A lot of teams might have struggled after that first half to give that reaction, so that doesn’t worry me.”
The theme is clear: Newcastle need some consistency. Pardew said: “I think the team has quality and we are searching for the fighting spirit from that second half from the moment we kick off to when it ends.
“We do that we have a good side but we have to do it on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes it can be one result and everyone gets on the back of it.
“We thought we had it at Villa but the Hull game has put pressure on us because Everton was always going to be tough agenda for everyone on a Monday night. Had we won that it would be a different story.”
Pardew intends to recall Yohan Cabaye from the bench but may relegate Hatem Ben Arfa to the bench.
Cabaye had been nursing an injury in the run-up to the Goodison Park game, although his form had also tailed off before a superb cameo against Everton.
Pardew added: “Yohan has trained this week and I see no issues with him starting this particular game.”