By the time the second goal went in, the Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, had left – his seat, definitely, the ground, perhaps.
Derek Llambias, the Newcastle managing director, was similarly absent when Adam Le Fondre cast a city into despair.
Llambias had returned by the time Andre Marriner signified that Alan Pardew’s side had lost their 10th Premier League game from the last 14 they have played. There were jeers to greet the confirmation of defeat. There had been jeers for the substitutions of Sylvain Marveaux (tactical) and Yohan Cabaye (fitness related). There had been a dismissive wave of his right arm from Pardew to the criticism of that decision. There had been chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”. No club teeters from success (fifth top in May) to disaster quite so quickly (currently two points off second bottom).
There had been a Herculean effort to clear St James’ Park and its surrounding areas of snow yesterday morning. It started at 7am, when a team of 200 reacted to Pardew’s desire for the game to be on. That collective desire seemed to end around seven hours later, at half-time, when Newcastle deservedly were a goal to the good.
Cabaye had returned to the starting XI for the first time since early November. It made a significant difference. His clever, crossfield pass led to the opening goal, when Marveaux was fouled on the edge of the Reading penalty area. Cabaye stroked the ball over the wall into the goal. It looked so simple, but nothing at Newcastle truly is. The second half implosion was the season lived out in 45 minutes.
There were decisions to be questioned. The use of Shola Ameobi on the right side of midfield. The withdrawal of Marveaux. The inability to defend simple situations, as in the ones that led to Reading’s goals.
Le Fondre cost Reading £300,000. Brian McDermott said afterwards that you could not buy Le Fondre’s right sock for that price now after his stunning double, from the substitutes’ bench. He also gave an impassioned defence of Pardew, who took him to Reading and gave him a start in coaching. Pardew needs that support right now. There has previously been support from the boardroom as well, but Ashley, on a rare appearance at St James’ Park this season, will have noticed two things: the lack of depth in the squad he has spent five-and-a-half years building, and the growing hostility to his current manager.
Pardew was asked if he was concerned about his position. “No,” he said. “I think I’m strong enough and [I’ve] been in situations before that I can deal with where we’re at. We were well set today. There was a good mood in the camp. It can change quickly when you’re down the bottom. The mood was quite good until the second half. You sensed we were losing a grip of the game. Defensively we need to improve, for sure. We wouldn’t have had an ugly day like we ended up having.
“Once they scored, we had a negative tilt on the game in terms of the stadium and the game. Taking Marveaux off was probably a mistake. It perhaps looked negative, and in a way it was. There was a bad reaction to that and that spread to the team. We looked very nervous after that and it was very difficult to turn that situation around. I didn’t envisage losing Yohan Cabaye. He had trained for 12 days. I thought he could get through the game.”
Newcastle didn’t strengthen in the summer. They will rue that decision until the end of a dreadful season. They are close to signing the French centre-half Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. He could yet be a replacement for Fabricio Coloccini, who has asked to leave and will have talks with the club tomorrow.
It was his defensive partner Mike Williamson who lost Le Fondre for the equalising goal, in the 71st minute, after Jimmy Kebe had crossed low from the Reading right. It was the forward’s first touch. There was a suspicion the ball brushed his hand on the way into the Newcastle goal. Six minutes later, it was more conclusive, Le Fondre turning sharply to crash a right-footed shot into the bottom corner of the net.
“I am proud of everyone,” said McDermott. “You don’t concentrate on what is going on in the crowd. We were concentrating on what we had to do. The most important thing was to keep believing.
“Alan Pardew was manager of the year last year. He brought me to Reading so I’ve got a lot to be grateful and thankful for. He is a fantastic manager. They’ve had their injuries and maybe they didn’t spend in the summer time the way they could have done.” Even the manager of Reading can see that.
Newcastle (4-1-4-1): Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Anita (Obertan, 80); Ameobi, Cabaye (Bigirimana, 75), Marveaux (Perch, 65), Gutierrez; Cissé.
Reading (4-5-1): Federici; Kelly, Pearce, Mariappa, Harte; Kebe, Guthrie (Le Fondre, 70), McAnuff, Leigertwood, McCleary (Akpan, 64); Pogrebnyak.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Le Fondre (Reading)
Match rating: 5/10