Alan Pardew’s future as manager of Newcastle United was under scrutiny the moment last season finished.
The club had posted their second-lowest points tally in 19 top-flight seasons, and relegation was avoided with just one game to spare. The axe, according to some, was being sharpened.
All summer long, the media honed in on the 52-year-old’s so-called precarious position at St. James’ Park, with Matt Law of the Mirror one of many questioning Pardew’s job security.
Four games in to the new campaign, the backdrop has changed. The Magpies now sit comfortably in the top half of the Premier League table.
With the mood on Tyneside improving over the last few weeks, we look at five factors that could keep Pardew in the United hot seat for the rest of this year and beyond.
Pardew, along with Steve Stone (left) and John Carver (centre), signed an eight-year deal with Newcastle last year
It’s almost a year since Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley took the unprecedented step of handing manager Alan Pardew an eight-year contract.
Alongside coaches John Carver, Steve Stone and Andy Woodman, as well as chief scout Graham Carr, Pardew signed the deal amidst much talk of stability and progress.
It took just eight months, however, for the mood to change. Despite landing both Manager of the Year awards 12 months earlier, the heat surrounding the Magpies boss began to rise.
In May this year, a report from Charles Sale in the Daily Mail went some way to explaining Ashley’s hesitancy to sack his under-fire manager at the end of last term.
Sale alleged that the Sports Direct supremo would face a bill of £10 million to offload the 52-year-old, and as long as this remains the case, Ashley’s frugality could earn Pardew a much longer stay at St. James’ Park.
Newcastle's director of football, Joe Kinnear
It was suggested by some that Joe Kinnear’s arrival as Newcastle United’s director of football would have a destabilising effect on Alan Pardew’s reign as the Magpies boss.
According to Louise Taylor in The Guardian, Kinnear was “widely portrayed as a human hand grenade on a mission to oust the manager” following his appointment at St. James’ Park in June.
However, his subsequent failings in the transfer market became the focus of the fans’ frustrations, and deflected much of the criticism previously reserved for Pardew.
Kinnear’s capture of just one senior player on loan infuriated the club's supporters, and many have realigned their loyalty to the manager, who spent the entire summer calling for squad reinforcements.
Whatever Mike Ashley’s intentions were when appointing the 66-year-old, they certainly seem to have strengthened Pardew’s standing amongst many of the club’s followers.
Few things galvanise a manager’s reputation like a good cup run, and at Newcastle United, Alan Pardew would love to be the first Magpies boss since 1969 to get his hands on some major silverware.
In an interview with Sky Sports, the Toon boss spoke of his desire to create “new heroes and a new trophy to recognise.” He named the FA Cup as “the one competition this year, other than the Premier League, that we really will focus on.”
Some 18 managers have come and gone at St. James’ Park since Joe Harvey’s side lifted the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 44 years ago, and each of them have failed to break the cycle.
Geordie fans looked on in envy last term as Wigan Athletic lifted the FA Cup and Swansea City triumphed in the League Cup. If Pardew could end United’s drought in similar fashion, his stock would rise beyond recognition.
Hatem Ben Arfa has been in inspirational form so far this season
The Newcastle United side that triumphed at Aston Villa over the weekend was almost unrecognisable from the team that struggled so badly at the wrong end of the table last season.
January’s signings are starting to get to grips with life in the Premier League, and coupled with the exciting form of Hatem Ben Arfa and Loic Remy, the improvements are clearly visible.
If Alan Pardew can consistently rely on an unchanged back four, and coax the likes of Yohan Cabaye back to his best, there’s every chance those improvements will continue.
The more the Magpies manager gets out of his players, the more his critics will stay silent and his reputation will grow once more.
Yoan Gouffran celebrates his winner at Aston Villa
Following last season’s struggles, any improvement on Newcastle United’s bottom-five finish would be welcomed. However, both Alan Pardew and the fans know their squad is capable of much more.
Spirits on Tyneside have been high this week after Saturday’s win at Aston Villa left the Magpies in eighth in the Premier League.
A similar performance on Saturday at home to Hull City could see Pardew’s side climb further as the club continue to try to put last term’s disappointments behind them.
Traditionally, the fledgling table at this stage of the competition offers few clues. However, a strong start and a consistent top-half billing can work wonders for a manager’s status—Pardew included.