Despite their post-January improvement, it’s safe to say the 2012-13 season will go down as a poor one in Newcastle United’s recent history. Languishing in 16th place in the Premier League table and below arch-rivals Sunderland for many weeks, the only chance the Magpies have of some sort of redemption is an extended run in the Europa League.
But what has went so wrong for Newcastle this season? Is there a serious issue that needs to be addressed or is it more a case of bad luck?
In truth, this season’s demise has been a horrendous cocktail of bad luck, injuries and managerial misjudgements. The three have culminated in Newcastle’s current position and forced their spending spree in the January transfer window, which may have just saved their Premier League status.
Before the 2012-13 season kicked off, Newcastle were quiet in the summer transfer window. The starting lineup, which included the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba, was good enough to repeat their impressive performance throughout the previous season once again, so long as they all stayed fit.
So there were no worries there for Alan Pardew and his colleagues. However, when the first-team stars started getting injured, the thin squad was soon exposed for their lack of quality. The players on the bench were the likes of Shane Ferguson and Gael Bigirimana—two promising young players—but not ones that can fill the sizeable shoes of a Cabaye or a Ben Arfa.
Newcastle had no one on the bench capable of changing a game, which meant they relied on their strained stars to keep coming up with the goods week in, week out. Eventually the pressure told and Cabaye missed 13 games through injury, while Ben Arfa suffered a muscle tear, ruling him out until Sunday’s game against Southampton.
Sylvain Marveaux and Vurnon Anita were the two main arrivals in the summer and Pardew hoped that the pair would give him the cover he needed in his squad. This didn’t work though as both men struggled with the pace of the Premier League and only now are starting to show their true ability in a black and white shirt. When they were thrust into the team as key players started to pick up injuries, it started to become clear that Newcastle weren’t going to repeat their previous seasons’ performance.
On top of the injuries to their top players, the Geordies had to cope with European competition as well. Travelling to Portugal, France and Belgium in the Europa League took its toll on the already-weak squad and affected their weekend domestic games as the squad struggled to find a balance between the two competitions.
It is nothing unusual for a team new to European competition to struggle in their league campaign though, as many have fallen to the same challenge before. However, if the Magpies had assembled a larger squad in the summer window, they could have put up more of a fight in the Premier League and not find themselves battling relegation for the most part of the season.
For all their bad luck, Newcastle weren’t helped by some of Alan Pardew’s choices when things got tough. His insistence on sitting back and trying to defend a 1-0 lead almost cost his side on more than one occasion, while his post-match interviews in which he credited his side for “hard work” didn’t cut the mustard with hardcore fans.
Loyal Toon fans wanted their manager to admit his preseason mistakes and take the blame for some of their sides’ woeful form, but Pardew would instead seem to be happy to take another defeat and try again (with the same tactics) the next time out.
Eventually though—after the FA Cup defeat to Brighton to be precise—the penny dropped and the wallet came out in the January transfer window. Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Massadio Haidara all joined and have transformed Newcastle into a dangerous side once again, with genuine quality throughout the match day squad, rather than just the first eleven.
With the added quality, Newcastle now look like comfortably retaining their Premier League status, while still having the opportunity to progress in the Europa League. Metalist Kharkiv are the Magpies’ first obstacle, while Anzhi Makachkala are likely to be next up if Newcastle can get through the Ukrainian side.
After a poor majority of the season, Newcastle look well set for the 2013-14 season with their new signings and upturn in form. One can’t help but wonder what might have been had the money men at the Magpies opened their wallets in the summer, though.