Newcastle: Well Done. Now Do It Again...

You have to admire the job done by Alan Pardew and Mike Ashley but can they really be expected to pull off that miracle again? Expectations have been raised...

Last Updated: 16/08/12 at 15:02 Post Comment

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Last season:

Premier League Fifth; FA Cup Fourth round; Carling Cup Fourth round

Manager Alan Pardew (since December 2010) Odds on being first out of his job 40-1 (joint 16th) Transfers in Romain Amalfitano (Reims), Curtis Good (Melbourne), Gael Bigirimana (Coventry), Vurnon Anita (Ajax)

Transfers out Danny Guthrie (Reading), Alan Smith (MK Dons), Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Leon Best (Blackburn)

Last November, as Alan Pardew drew to within the first anniversary of his appointment with ten games unbeaten, it was time to do what had been unthinkable and to praise the manager and Mike Ashley. It is that time again.

Newcastle could not quite maintain that start, dropping from third to fifth, but Ashley has achieved the rare double of rising up the league while reducing costs. Gone are the days of financial recklessness and the players who managed to get relegated while sharing the fifth-highest wage bill in the Premier League. Gone is a culture that included Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, the sale of whom was a gamble that was widely expected to see the team lose some spirit but instead paid off handsomely, as a new esprit de corps took root.

In place of the old guard came successful gambles such as the Senegal pair Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse and France's Yohan Cabaye, bargains all and paid for with just over a third of the money received for Andy Carroll. The new players delivered goals and commitment, and the return of excitement to St James' Park. Ashley's name games with the stadium ensured that some resentment would bubble away but Geordies know that their club are now financially sound, for which the owner and his cohorts deserve great praise, grudging or not.

Newcastle did fade a little last season, despite the January acquisition of Cisse, third place becoming fifth. The squad was thin; injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations took their toll and the tournament's move from even-numbered years to odd-numbered ones means that there will be absences again. The play-off draw, though, has pitched Senegal against Cheik Tiote's Ivory Coast so Pardew will not lose a trio of players to the finals.

Unless he signs some more African players, that is. Transfer activity has been limited this summer, which will surely be a concern given the weakness of defensive cover. The link with a return for Carroll was slightly odd; he may be a reformed character but bringing him into the non-drinking culture centred on the Muslim quartet of Ba, Cisse, Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa would be an odd move.

Last season's success has raised expectations and the difficulty for Pardew now is of managing them and matching them, unless of course he pulls off another miracle. Given the spending elsewhere and Newcastle's lack of it, it is reasonable to expect a dip of some sort. It is a long time ago now but he does have previous for a precipitous slide - from being stoppage time away from a West Ham victory in the 2006 FA Cup final to the sack in the December of that year - and has had reported run-ins with boards at other clubs, too.

Newcastle were sandwiched in last season's final table between Spurs and Chelsea - and they kick off against Tottenham at St James' then visit Stamford Bridge. Aston Villa head north-east on September 1 but then Pardew's men go to Everton, who finished seventh in May.

Easier pickings follow - Norwich (home) and Reading (away) - but the squad will have to cope with Europa League football too and there could be a fairly early indication of whether the anticlimax of 2011-12's second half will continue.

Pardew and Ashley have done a great deal right but there is no end to the job in football.

Philip Cornwall

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