As they ride the crest of a wave that sees them sit sixth in the Premier League, Newcastle United have every right to be pleased with their opening 16 games of the campaign. Memorable wins over Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United have earned Magpies manager Alan Pardew huge credit, but there are still weaknesses that need to be addressed if the Geordies are to continue their good form.
A statistic that has been somewhat papered over shows that Newcastle have been extremely vulnerable when leading at half-time in games. Four times this season, the Magpies have lost the second half of games, once leading to a defeat (at home to Hull City) as well as costing them two points against Southampton.
There is no denying that Pardew’s side are gifted when it comes to attacking. Loic Remy and Shola Ameobi have formed a potent striking partnership, and when supplied by the likes of Yohan Cabaye from midfield, Newcastle can cause anyone problems.
However, when the Geordies have been ahead and playing well, there seems to be a clear change in the way the team approaches the second half. On numerous occasions, the message from the manager appears to be to opt for a safe approach, with the intention of hanging onto the good work that got them in front in the first half.
A perfect example is the game against Norwich City. Newcastle were coming off the back of successive wins over Tottenham and Chelsea and found themselves a goal up after just two minutes, courtesy of another Remy strike. Yoan Gouffran then doubled the advantage and the stage was set for Newcastle to give the Canaries something of a pasting.
However, the team emerged for the second half with a totally different approach and set about playing safer and not continuing to push for goals. Leroy Fer then netted for Norwich and Newcastle were made to cope with a barrage of pressure for the final ten minutes before hanging on for their three points.
Despite the scare of the Norwich game, Pardew’s side almost capitulated last weekend against Southampton, too. Up 1-0 at half-time thanks to Gouffran, the Toon Army bossed the first half and should have had more goals. The game looked to be Newcastle’s to lose, and they almost obliged, allowing Saints to get back into the match with their defensive approach. Jay Rodriguez equalised and Mauricio Pochettino’s side spurned a number of other chances as the clash ended level.
So what is Alan Pardew saying to his side during the 15-minute interval every week?
The conservative style when Newcastle are winning is not going to win over many fans that still have question marks over his managerial ability, especially when the goal difference is still in negative numbers.
One of the most famous sporting cliches is that a good offense is the best defence, and that mentality could go a long way in helping Newcastle this season. Had they continued to attack in the Norwich and Southampton games, the Magpies could be better positioned in the battle for the European places—with a better goal difference to boot.
Going into the second half of the season, Pardew would be well-advised to take a more positive approach when he sees his side playing well, rather than trying to close up shop and take the points. Such a mentality would certainly bring more out of the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, who looks like a real threat when Newcastle are attacking but struggles when charged with added defensive responsibility.
Newcastle’s next two games are away at Crystal Palace and at home against Stoke City. A crushing home victory over the Potters would elevate Pardew’s reputation to the level it reached when he led his side to fifth two seasons ago.
That kind of reputation looked impossible when fans were calling for his head after the Derby Day loss, so Pardew certainly has added incentive over the festive period.