When Alan Pardew takes his seat in the directors' box on Saturday it will not be his name he hears ringing around St James' Park but that of his predecessor.
It's a surreal scenario few new managers encounter, but such is the growing feeling of disenchantment among fans at the appointment of the 49-year-old, that an uncomfortably vociferous backing for Chris Hughton could be the least of his worries.
The worst-kept secret in the Premier League is set to be confirmed today, with Pardew to be unveiled tomorrow as the sixth manager of Mike Ashley's three-and-a-half-year reign at Newcastle United. He is expected to name Fulham's Ray Lewington as his No 2. Lewington was Roy Hodgson's assistant at Craven Cottage but has seen his influence diminish since the arrival of Mark Hughes and was recently demoted to youth-team coach. Pardew will at first undertake a watching brief – reserve-team coach Peter Beardsley will be in charge of the team against Liverpool – before the new man takes his first training session on Monday ahead of the trip to Birmingham City on Saturday week.
Rumblings of planned fan protests against Ashley to mirror those that met Kevin Keegan's sudden departure two years ago are gathering momentum in what could prove to be something of a tough introduction for Pardew, who can expect at best a tepid reception from the stands and, for that matter, a dressing room still loyal to Hughton.
"If they're going to fire someone as good as Chris, they have to then bring in a big name, someone who has won trophies," said Jose Enrique, speaking before any appointment was made. The Spanish defender added: "If they just bring in someone similar, it's a joke."
Pardew came last in an online poll carried out by the local Evening Chronicle newspaper, where supporters were asked to name their favoured candidate for the post. The former West Ham United manager, sacked by Southampton of League One in August, polled less than 2 per cent of the vote, well behind Hughton, which suggests many still back the popular Irishman, or perhaps didn't quite understand the poll.
For the record, the voting was topped with 42 per cent by Martin O'Neill, but the former Aston Villa manager was never a serious candidate given the financial constraints the new man will have to work under, and Martin Jol, who ruled himself out of the running earlier this week, with 33 per cent.
Those constraints are likely to see Pardew, who will earn a basic salary in the region of £750,000 a year in addition to performance-related bonuses on a lengthy contract, receive only a modest transfer kitty in January. With Newcastle currently 12th, four points above the relegation zone, he is well aware that there is plenty of scope for the club to go backwards.
Certainly Pardew isn't as leftfield as Newcastle's appointment of Joe Kinnear following a four-year management hiatus in 2008, but his imminent arrival has been largely met with dismay, a view reflected by the influential Newcastle fanzine nufc.com: "Hopes that the club had a viable plan to go forward seem to have evaporated.
"Bewilderment among supporters has now rapidly given way to fury, with Pardew seen as bringing nothing to the club that Hughton lacked." The site is not alone in voicing fears that Ashley risks a repeat of the disastrous relegation campaign in 2009 with a needless managerial change. For his part, it is believed the owner moved now to give Pardew, who is viewed from within as possessing far greater experience and being a more shrewd operator in the transfer market than Hughton, time to put his stamp on the side this season, rather than wait until the rot had set in.
Nufc.com added: "Pardew is set to arrive in an atmosphere of renewed hostility that helped destabilise the club with disastrous consequences in our last top-flight campaign. Further echoes of 2008 have come with calls for fan-led protests inside and outside St James' Park before and during Saturday's home fixture against Liverpool. The issue of timing has been raised, echoing the views of many fans, that the time for thanking and jettisoning Hughton was once promotion had been confirmed earlier this year, not now." For Pardew, even before the ink is dry on his new contract, it appears the honeymoon period is over.Reuse content