Pardew's unlikely lads flying high but he can't win over fans
Newcastle supporters say he is an Ashley puppet and won't sing his name, even though they are fourth...
Saturday 01 October 2011
There may well come a time when we will be wondering whatever happened to Alan Pardew's unlikely lads.
Indeed, while the new-look Newcastle continue to occupy the dizzy height of fourth place in the Premier League table, the default mood setting among many followers of the black and whites remains stuck somewhere in the vicinity of the downcast Bob Ferris in the film version of The Likely Lads. "In the chocolate box of life the top layer's already gone – and someone's pinched the orange cream from the bottom," he memorably pondered.
Still, for all of the Toon Army's deep resentment of Mike Ashley's presence at the top layer of their beloved club, of the pinching of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton by opposition clubs, of the lack of re-investment in high-profile replacements, the Magpies are flying high and a feel-good factor is threatening to impinge on the negativity. Pardew's side travel to Wolves today on an unbeaten run of eight matches in all competitions this season – six in the league, two in the Carling Cup.
Newcastle have not been undefeated for so long at the start of a campaign since 1994-95. Not that Pardew has been giving himself and his players a pat on the back. "If you do that, you end up with egg on your face," the Newcastle manager said. "I've spoken to a few of the guys about making sure that we say the right things. It's very important that we just keep working hard.
"Our midfield stats have come through and we're the hardest-working group in the division. All those things add up and it's important we remember that it's hard work that's got us where we are."
It is to Pardew's credit that he has lost the guts of the side that took Newcastle to 12th last season – Barton, Nolan, Carroll, Jose Enrique – and yet retained the spirit and the substance that the St James' class of 2010-11 had about them.
In midfield, the French pair Gabriel Obertan and Yohan Cabaye have replaced the Scouse duo Barton and Nolan. Up front, the Paris-born Senegal international Demba Ba – scorer of all three goals in the 3-1 home win against Blackburn last Saturday – has assumed line-leading duties from the Geordie Carroll, who joined Liverpool for £35m more than the free-transfer acquisition from West Ham cost.
Factor in a defence that has conceded the fewest number of goals of all 92 League clubs (three to date) and you might think they would be singing Pardew's praises from the rooftops on Tyneside. You would be wrong. Ten months on from his appointment in place of the popular Chris Hughton, Pardew has yet to hear his name chanted by the Toon Army. He is still seen as Ashley's puppet, as the cover of the latest edition of one fanzine portrays him.
That might change if the man who guided West Ham to the 2006 FA Cup final keeps pulling the strings on the pitch all the way to Wembley. If his in-form side win their fourth-round Carling Cup tie at Blackburn on 26 October they will be through to the quarter-finals.
On the league front, though, Pardew is looking no further than today's trip to Wolverhampton, where the Magpies last won a top-flight fixture back in September 1958. Asked to evaluate his unlikely lads, he replied: "I honestly can't tell you how good we are. The signs that I'm getting suggest that we are a good side but I think we're a little more vulnerable. Last season we were a functional team. We could get goals at set-plays. We could eke out a result. This team isn't like that. This team is more about rhythm. And there's more things that can go wrong. Two or three lose confidence and it might not look the same. We've got all those battles to come. When we go down to 10 men, can we nick a result? When things really go against us, how are we going to react?"
No pats on the back just yet then for the Geordie untouchables – who were in fact shot down in midweek, in a paintballing contest. "The staff took the attack to the players," Pardew said. "We won on points."
Life and times
Pardew as a player
*Learnt his trade in non-League football in Surrey and south London, and almost quit the game when he decided to take a job as a glazer for six months in the Middle East.
*Went on to make 475 appearances with 38 goals during spells at Barnet, Charlton and Crystal Palace.
*Personal highlight was scoring the winner for Palace in a memorable 4-3 win over Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final.
Pardew as a manager
*Highlights include gaining promotions with Reading and West Ham and taking the Hammers to the FA Cup final in 2006. Also won the Football League Trophy with Southampton in 2010.
*Overall record: 560 games – won 242, drawn 145, lost 173; win ratio 43.21%
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