Newcastle Are Drifting out to Sea Under Ashley and Pardew

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Newcastle United's manager Alan Pardew gestures to his players during their English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates stadium in London, Monday, April  28,  2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Newcastle United and Crystal Palace will, in all likelihood, finish on around (if not exactly) the same number of points. However, one manager will go into the summer lauded as one of the finest in the division, while the other has question marks over his job hanging around like a thick and cloying fog.

The difference, of course, is obvious. Tony Pulis took over a listing ship and righted it, while Alan Pardew's ship was sailing serenely towards its destination before the captain stopped paying attention and it almost ground to a standstill.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Pulis has performed near-miracles in dragging Palace not only to safety, but to within three points of Pardew's Newcastle, despite United having a stellar first half of the season that saw them with a good chance of European football at one stage.

It's remarkable that Newcastle's season has been allowed to drift so much, but with six defeats in a row and three wins since the turn of the year, there is a real danger that they will slip out of the top half of the Premier League, a sense of apathy having taken over the club in the second half of the campaign.

There was a clue to why that might be in Pardew's comments after the latest defeat, a 3-0 stroll in the park for Arsenal on Monday. He said, as quoted by the Guardian:

They've seen us lose again and they're not happy, and I have to respect that. But all I can do is do this job to the best of my ability. We've been top 10 all year. We should have performed better in this run, I know, and we've got to finish in the top 10. If Cardiff think it's important for them on Saturday, it's important for us to finish in the top 10, too, believe me.

The top 10 seems to be it. That seems to be Newcastle and Pardew's aim, and that's good enough. They are a club of enormous size and significance, but absolutely limited ambition, so when by around January or February time it became clear that the top-10 finish was highly likely, intensity dropped, minds wandered, and this dreadful run of form began.

There are extenuating circumstances, of course. Loic Remy has been injured for a number of games, while Yohan Cabaye was sold and not replaced in January, an example of another big problem Newcastle have had this season in Joe Kinnear.

There are things out of Pardew's control that have hampered him, but of course he has not helped matters himself, his headbutt on David Meyler ranking among the stupidest and most pointless acts ever made by a top-flight manager. Indeed, he was lucky to have kept his job after that incident, his only significant punishment being the seven-match touchline ban that has coincided with this dismal run.

At most clubs, such an easing off would result in the manager's position being called into question, but the chances of Pardew facing the sack seem slim. It's difficult to conclude anything other than this is a club run on such low expectations that this slump will not be viewed as unacceptable.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley takes his seat prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Mike Ashley appears content to keep Newcastle chugging along; mid-table finishes being fine as they keep them out of trouble and don't really cost him any money. He is happy to contribute the bare minimum in transfer funds to replenish the side; just enough to ensure the club don't get into any trouble.

There seems to be no ambition, as there should be, for Newcastle to better themselves, to achieve anything above mediocrity, which at best is an insult to their fans.

The Newcastle Chronicle, a local paper with which Pardew and Newcastle have had some run-ins this season, not least when he apportioned some of the blame to the North-East press recently, as per the Daily Mail, pointed out this week that he has presided over a worse run of form than the last 28 Premier League managers to be sacked.

It might be said that Ashley is bucking the trend and not caving in to the knee-jerk culture of football today, but it should at least give him pause for thought. At present, Newcastle are a club drifting, and that simply isn't good enough.