ALAN Pardew left Old Trafford last night cursing his defenders, but Newcastle United’s midfield will cause most concern when he picks Saturday’s team to face Arsenal.
The Magpies lost 4-3 to Manchester United after leading three times and twice hitting the woodwork.
They will be without two more key players at the Emirates this weekend. Vurnon Anita was stretchered off in added time at Old Trafford, while defender Mike Williamson picked up his fifth domestic yellow card this season.
With Steven Taylor a long-term absentee, James Perch will have to move into the centre of defence, further depleting an already inexperienced midfield.
The performance of his back four was causing Pardew (left) most angst last night, however.
He said: “We had a gameplan to take the game to Man United. We put a lot of pressure on them, on the break in particular.
“However, we came away with nothing and after the way we played offensively we are disappointed with that.
“We hit the post at 3-3 and hit the bar as well.
“My frustration is with my team because defensively we should have done a lot better.
“Regardless of it being Man United and the history and tradition of the place, and their late finishes, we should have taken something from the match, 100%.
“We have come here against an experienced side and probably lacked a bit of experience in that midfield in the second half, but we have to defend better.
“That back four has been together for a while with our goalkeeper and my expectations of them would have been greater. I was disappointed with the goals they conceded, especially the last one.”
Pardew added: “I just felt for the whole game we had a goal in us.
“Whatever the score was, I thought we could score again. I said to the players at half-time, ‘you have to expect Man United will score’.
“The key moment was probably from Sammy Ameobi. He came off the bench and I thought his effort was in, but it hit the inside of the post and went into the goalie’s hands.
“I did think to myself then it might not be our day.”
Perch put Newcastle ahead after four minutes. Jonny Evans equalised, then put through his own net.
Patrice Evra’s second goal against the Magpies this season was followed by one from Papiss Cissé, only for Robin van Persie and – in the 90th minute – Javier Hernández to win the game.
Even a draw would have been harsh on Newcastle, who hit the woodwork through Sylvain Marveaux and Ameobi.
The emotions for both sides were exaggerated by Sunderland’s win over Manchester City, which moved the Wearsiders above their neighbours in the table.
With Cheick Tioté suspended and Jonás Gutiérrez added to the injury list, Newcastle could ill afford more casualties.
They got one courtesy of Antonio Valencia’s reckless tackle on Anita.
Pardew said: “I was upset with that tackle.
“I thought it got lost a little bit (in the excitement of the finish). I don’t think Valencia has tried to hurt the player, he just timed it badly.
“It is too early to say how long he will be out for, but it’s a bang on the ankle and we’ll have to wait and see whether he’ll make Arsenal.
“He would be a loss to us because I thought he was terrific.
“You could argue our whole midfield from last year was out – we had no Gutiérrez, Tioté, (Yohan) Cabaye or (Hatem) Ben Arfa. Our midfield did well though, brilliantly well.”
Gutiérrez will have an injection in his knee today and is set to miss “two or three games.”
Pardew is expected to have more to say today on Shola Ameobi’s selection in a 26-man provisional Nigeria squad for the African Cup of Nations.
The Journal understands Newcastle thought they had a gentleman’s agreement with the striker he would not make himself available for the tournament.