Not for the first time in his eight months as Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew is facing the prospect of being four down.
Despite the offer of peace and conciliation, the chances are that Joey Barton will have tweeted his last as a Magpie before the transfer deadline closes, following Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique out of the exit door and leaving Pardew with a deficit of four major players as he gets to grips with his first full season in charge at St James' Park.
The natives are not so much getting restless as resigned to more of the same old, having seen the guts ripped out of a team that performed above par under Chris Hughton and then Pardew as Premier League returnees last season, a side that harnessed spirit and substance and not a little style at times en route to a 12th-placed finish.
There was similar dismay when Hughton was sacked and Pardew hired last December, and again when Carroll was sold to Liverpool on the last day of the January transfer window. In the match that followed Carroll's sudden departure, Pardew found his side 4-0 down in 26 minutes at home to Arsenal. Fans were streaming out of St James' in their hundreds as the Newcastle manager delivered his half-time team talk. So what did he say to retrieve a seemingly lost cause? "What goes on in the dressing room stays there," Pardew said yesterday. "But what I was thinking about was the pride of the football club. It was being dishonoured on the day and we put it right."
What Al Pardew actually said to his battered troops that day was apparently what Al Pacino told his failing gridiron team in Any Given Sunday: "Life is just a game of inches. On this team we fight for that inch. We tear ourselves and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch."
Goal by goal, Newcastle inched their way back after the interval, Cheick Tioté volleying the equaliser with three minutes left. The task facing Pardew now is to inch together a new Newcastle team – starting with the visit of Arsenal this evening. One plus for the recently turned 50-year-old is that he will be unburdened by great expectations.
Pardew has yet to complete his summer recruitment drive – he hopes to add a striker and a left-back next week – but the Toon Army have been underwhelmed by the five arrivals thus far: French midfielders Gabriel Obertan from Manchester United, Sylvain Marveaux from Rennes, Yohan Cabaye from Lille and Mehdi Abeid from Lens, plus the Senegalese striker Demba Ba from West Ham. As of last night, St James' was not a sell-out for opening day.
"There is always change at a football club," Pardew reflected. "A lot of people don't like change. It's never bothered me. It's a new team. We think we've signed well and I think our fans will see some new players who are going to impress them. I had to rebuild a side at West Ham. It was very similar. We had been relegated and I had senior players whose focus wasn't on the job in hand. I lost a lot of senior players and one or two were disruptive.
"The most important thing about building a side is to get the balance right. We've got a much younger team and I think we'll have a lot more energy on the pitch in all areas. We won't have the depth of experience that we had, perhaps, but that can be madeup with exuberance and no lack of ability."Reuse content