It was that sort of afternoon. The Treorchy Male Voice Choir sang the Blaydon Races, much to the disgust of traumatised Cardiff City supporters, and Alan Pardew took another schizophrenic Newcastle performance in his measured stride. Who needs normality?
For a man supposedly trudging to a scaffold, set up on the horizon, Pardew was a picture of contentment. Two first half goals by Loïc Rémy provided sufficient insurance against second half brain fade, and Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s quixotic owner, was able to enjoy an evening out in a renowned party town.
Pardew was in maître-d mode, a vision of insouciance in a black suit cheekily offset by a pair of brown leather shoes. He occasionally jotted down a pearl of wisdom in his moleskin notebook, but spent most of his time on the touchline with his arms folded.
Asked, inevitably, about his employment prospects as the Premier League enters the killing field of the second international break of the season, he grimaced, and shot back a world-weary “let’s just carry on with the job.”
Carry On Up The Toon. Has a ring of authenticity, don’t you think? It probably helped that Joe Kinnear, the ex or next manager, according to the rumour of the day, was apparently on an intelligence mission at Craven Cottage. One meeting of minds a week, with the man who will probably never live down his nickname of JFK, is enough for anyone.
Pardew is doing his job his way, in impossible circumstances. He playfully admits “I can’t keep any of the people happy any of the time” and never quite gives the impression he believes in the concept of domestic harmony promoted by his so-called director of football.
He has decided he can no longer ignore the indolence of the extravagantly talented Hatem Ben Arfa, who has made precisely two tackles in seven Premier League appearances this season. He paid his penance on the bench until five minutes from time, when he replaced the outstanding Yohan Cabaye.
Suitably embarrassed by his petulance, in refusing to play while a move to Arsenal was on the agenda, Cabaye was a class apart. His ambition is understandable, given the comedic narrative of a club which cannot provide the platform he deserves.
“I’ve just seen him in the showers and told him in the first half that was a good a performance as I have seen from him,” said Pardew, apparently oblivious to the image he had created. “He is truly on top of his game. He is not 100 per cent yet but has two internationals for France coming up, and that is probably a good thing.”
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay, one of Pardew’s closest friends in the game, was too accommodating for comfort, despite admitting in the match programme that he regularly seeks out the Newcastle manager, who signed him as a player for West Ham in 2004, for advice.
The galling nature of the defeat highlighted strangely turbulent times in South Wales. Patience is wearing thin with Cardiff’s flamboyant Thai benefactor Vincent Tan, though the club played down reports he is unwelcome in the home dressing room. Mackay merely confirmed a bonus dispute had been solved.
The crowd, a huge asset, were energised by a comeback inspired by another maverick, Peter Odemwingie. His 57th minute goal was set up by the tenacity of Aron Gunnarsson, who disposed the recalled Mike Williamson, and the vision of half-time substitute Jordon Mutch.
His subtle angled touch put Odemwingie clear. He drew Tim Krul, cut inside, and scored with a firm shot. The primitive howl of hope from the home fans proved to be in vain, largely because of what Pardew admitted was the best 45 minute performance he had seen from his team in his two-and-a-half years in charge.
Mackay was left to rue defensive inadequacies which allowed opponents to run off their markers with impunity. Possession was squandered and only goalkeeper Andy Marshall, who introduced himself with a brilliant double save from Rémy and Moussa Sissoko, prevented a rout. He was finally beaten on the half hour, when Rémy was allowed to saunter down the left from the halfway line. He cut in, evaded Steven Caulker and Kevin Theophile-Catherine with damning ease, and beat Marshall inside his near post from 25 yards.
Eight minutes later, Papiss Cissé took down Cabaye’s sweeping cross, changed feet, and fashioned a shot which Marshall could only parry. It fell to Rémy on the edge of the area, and he curled a low shot through the legs of a covering defender. The goalkeeper was not the only man in the stadium to instinctively bury his head in his hands.
Frenchmen have scored Newcastle’s last 12 goals. “Some stat,” beamed Pardew. Sacré bleu, as they say down the Bigg Market.
Cardiff (4-1-4-1): Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner Taylor; Medel; Odemwingie (Maynard, 80), Gunnarsson, Kim (Mutch, h-t), Whittingham; Campbell (Bellamy, 65).
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Tioté, Cabaye (Ben Arfa, 85); Sissoko, Gouffran, Rémy (Guitierrez, 70); Cissé.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Cabaye (Newcastle)
Match rating: 7/10