The start of April is a strange time to be going back to the drawing board, but after a performance which left Newcastle United with “no credibility” that is exactly what Alan Pardew has done this week.
Even when a Premier League team misses out on three points, there can be pointers to how to improve.
Defeat against Everton was tough to take, but Newcastle began that game pretty well and had a spell just before half-time when they matched the Toffees toe to toe.
It might sound like scraping the bottom of the barrel, but no matter how much dredging Pardew has done this week there has been nothing to cling to.
Only Rob Elliot’s performance – and Pardew warned Tim Krul’s return would be “selection permitting” in an interesting aside – gave Newcastle’s manager something to smile about.
So Pardew has gone back to basics: teaching his team about the importance of retaining shape, structure and a strong back-bone when rivals manage to get the jump on them.
It sounds remarkable Newcastle are having to do this with so few games to go but it has been a theme of this curious season.
Just when we think United have cracked it, they revert back to last year’s subterranean standards and the backlash starts again.
Pardew candidly confessed: “What we took out of the game at Southampton was no credibility, nothing to hang on to.
“We are a blank piece of paper so we need to get structure in the team, understand what it’s like when other teams score and how to react to that.”
How can United respond to their miserable St Mary’s experience then?
Pardew’s solution is clear: “The answer to a performance like that is putting in display in the following game.
“As a professional you have to accept you can be beaten and sometimes it’s a long way away and you have to accept responsibility as a group and to put it right.
“Therefore, that’s what we hope to see on Saturday.
“The focus very much this week is on our stability and the structure to the team, which we’re really good at.
“For most of the season we’ve had that right for every game apart from one or two, but that game completely got away from us. It got away from us way before half time. We never managed to claw it back.”
Pardew’s reasoning for Southampton’s excellent performance is three-fold: they were desperate to “jump above” Newcastle, they were motivated by his own return and United were sufficiently under-strength to offer their rivals a bucket-load of motivation. He added: “There was a lot going for Southampton last week, such as the lack of first-team players on the team sheet, the desire to jump above us and the old manager coming back. Games can get away from you, like Everton got away from us in the first half at their place, but the second half we pulled it back and came out of it with our credibility intact and went into the next game and played well.”
Newcastle will have to do it without a few key men.
He said: ““Sammy Ameobi’s out, no Moussa. Debuchy we think has no chance for Stoke but maybe the week after that. Tim maybe for next week – if selected.”
The opposition on Saturday arrive after a solid performance in midweek against Bayern Munich. They looked much sturdier against the German champions and will be spying redemption of their own, having lost the first meeting between the two teams at Old Trafford.
Newcastle were on the coat-tails of the top six until recently and had they secured a succession of strong results they might have been eyeing Europe themselves. Poor form has put paid to that.
Pardew said: “It’s difficult because Man United have icked up.
“They were terrific against Munich and will bring that bounce to our place.
“We’re coming off a very poor display. Everything points to them being favourites to win this game, but we have to prove that wrong.”