There are big questions for Newcastle United to answer this summer. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas finds Alan Pardew in a candid mood on the eve of their biggest game of the season.
IN the short-term, it is all very straightforward for Newcastle United.
Win tomorrow and the thudding questions about the club’s Premier League status will be swept away by three points as big as any in the Mike Ashley era.
It will only bring short-term relief though. Because even a euphoric triumph in West London will not take the heat out of the other issues bubbling beneath the surface at St James’ Park.
Take your pick of these: Alan Pardew’s future, Fabricio Coloccini, summer transfers, away form, set-pieces, striker targets. Those are the headline-grabbers, but this troubling campaign has thrown up enough questions to more than occupy the time when Pardew meets Ashley for those “uncomfortable” discussions in the close season.
By admitting that survival might not be enough to save his own role, Pardew has at least brought out into the open the fact that there are difficult questions to answer in the weeks following the end of the season.
The two have held cordial discussions this week, but Pardew said Ashley was included in the list of club figures who have “underachieved”. Presumably last summer’s unsatisfactory recruitment still troubles the manager – and he wants it rectified next year.
That is a fair point. With the demands of a Europa League campaign to test him, failing to land any number of new recruits left Newcastle vulnerable to the injuries which were to follow.
“We’ve got to be honest,” Pardew said yesterday. “We’ve underachieved as a club, so the point is we all take responsibility.”
The Newcastle boss knows it is out of his hands, but remains “confident” he has a compelling case to continue. If that happens, he will ask Ashley to make funds available in the summer to sign the two strikers he feels they need to challenge for Europe once more.
That would be one to replace Demba Ba and another simply to add more firepower to a squad that has scored just once in the last four games.
In truth, the club have never really replaced the Senegal striker although they had lined up Loïc Rémy in January before the lure of Tony Fernandes’ silly money managed to convince him that Championship-bound QPR were the better bet.
The loss of Rémy was yesterday pinpointed as one of the reasons for Newcastle’s struggles. Pardew said it would be “foolish” to rule out completely the prospect of making another approach to the France striker in the summer – even if the whole process had left a bitter taste in the mouth back at the turn of the year.
“We were disappointed how that ended if I’m honest,” he said. “We made it clear to his agent and to the player that we were upset about the way it was done.
“They maintain it was done in an honest and honourable way, therefore I have to believe that.”
The rapid change of tack meant fast-tracking a move for Moussa Sissoko and also giving Yoan Gouffran more of a central role than was initially earmarked.
“We’ve been under major pressure and we’re fortunate in some respects that Papiss (Cissé) has stayed fit,” said Pardew. “We’ve been running with really and truly a couple of strikers in Gouff, who’s come in (and Cissé). I think it’s hard for a French player when he’s been playing wide for Bordeaux – as the wide striker – to come here and crack it as Newcastle No 10. I think it put extra pressure on him and the team.”
If the striker situation has been far from perfect, Pardew has also faced a battle to keep his captain’s head in the game.
Fabricio Coloccini was unsettled in January but was blocked from leaving, which might just be the difference for Newcastle in this relegation denouement.
The centre-back was a tower of strength at Upton Park and Pardew says that he still harbours hopes of him staying at United.
“It is something we’ll have to address in the summer,” he said.
“(We’ll talk) about how the season’s gone and how he feels about being at this football club. When he plays for this football club, when he’s played since I’ve been here, he’s been brilliant. I will fight for him to stay but ultimately it’ll be Colo’s decision.”
At the risk of letting ourselves get carried away, a major hurdle still awaits tomorrow.
QPR have been woeful but so too has Newcastle’s away record. Only Reading have taken fewer points on their travels and United’s solitary away win is a source of frustration for Pardew, who says it will also be on the agenda for their end-of-season strategic review. “We have to put it right. We have to improve slightly on that record on Sunday,” he said.
“It’s out last chance, if we don’t we have to address it in the summer.” Pardew – who appealed for everyone in the city to shelve their criticism and “head in the same direction” for the last two games – does not agree that Newcastle have been too open.
“There’ve been games when we should’ve got better results. For whatever reason we didn’t see it over the line,” he said.
“We got ourselves in good situation in a number of games where we should’ve got points. That’s a concern. That’s cost us and caused this pressure we’re under now and caused our position in the league – regardless of the Europa League.
“It’s something we’ve got to put right.”