Alan Pardew had only just signed his unprecedented eight-year contract to stay as manager of Newcastle United when he was asked about the owner’s demands that went with it.
“Win every week,” he said, with a smile. “Regardless of my contract, there’s always pressure when you are in charge of Newcastle. In Mike [Ashley]’s mind it’s, ‘You’d better do well.’”
Two months on from then, Newcastle are not doing so well. Defeat at Stoke City on Wednesday means the run that has followed the signing of the deal is three wins from 13 games. Only one has been in the Premier League and the defeat at the Britannia Stadium means there has been four in succession where it matters most.
Pardew was asked in the immediate aftermath of that loss whether his side was in a relegation fight, even with the season yet to reach December. “Well, we are now, and no, it’s not too early,” he said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand, and we have to get wins to get out of it.”
Crucially though, Pardew retains the support of the people who handed him that contract. They have seen a disjointed season unfold. Newcastle have been good and successful in their Europa League campaign. They have done what neither Tottenham Hotspur nor Liverpool could manage, and reach the knock-out stage of the tournament with a game to spare.
The competition, however, has been punishing. Newcastle did not expect to finish fifth last season. The run to European competition came unexpectedly early, too early in some eyes. No one saw it coming and it has ensured Pardew, who won the manager of the year award for the achievement, will be given time to deal with the problems that have pushed his side to within two points of the relegation zone.
The squad was not ready for extra games, and the owner, Ashley will not break with the business model he has put in place. Newcastle are unlikely to be major spenders in the forthcoming transfer window, but Ashley is unpredictable, as the late signing of Papiss Cissé proved in January.
To compete on both fronts this season, Newcastle needed to invest in personnel, and they did not, signing only Vurnon Anita for £5.7m from Ajax to add immediately to their first-team pool. They could not afford the kind of injuries and suspensions to key players that have struck Fabricio Coloccini, Tim Krul, Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tioté and now Hatem ben Arfa. It has exposed the lack of depth.
Pardew admitted last week that the GPS system has proven his players’ statistics have dropped for the Sunday games in the Premier League that have followed a Thursday in European competition. They were poor at Southampton on Sunday, a defeat which followed unexpected home losses to West Ham United and Swansea City. Those results brought unrest in Newcastle. Wednesday’s defeat did not help, but the spirit was good, the result unfortunate. The players are still playing for a manager that most of them like.
Their next two league games will most likely determine the team’s fate for the season rather than the managers: Wigan Athletic at home and then Fulham away. They need wins to create breathing space, especially with Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton lurking over the Christmas period.