Forget The Smugness And Credit Pardew

There's something about Alan Pardew that makes him a difficult man to like - but his tactical re-shuffle at Newcastle in recent weeks deserves some respect...

Last Updated: 27/11/13 at 09:47 Post Comment

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There's a reluctance to give credit to Alan Pardew - perhaps it's his perceived smugness, guilt by association with Mike Ashley or a suspicion that he was incredibly fortunate to stumble into the Newcastle job after mixed fortunes at West Ham and Charlton. Whatever the reason, people are never slow to guffaw at the idea of Pardew as some kind of managerial genius.

Even two seasons ago when Newcastle came within four points of a Champions League place - thanks in part to a phenomenal six-match winning streak - more credit was given to chief scout Graham Carr for delivering players like Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse. After all, how could Pardew fail when he had been handed such treasures?

Never mind that Pardew has somehow found a way to incorporate Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba and Cisse in the same side; never mind that he made average players like Mike Williamson and James Perch key parts of a squad finishing in fifth; none of this was down to Pardew. There was widespread laughter when Ashley responded to Newcastle's overachievement by handing his man an eight-year contract.

Cynicism seemed justified when Newcastle's lack of investment that summer (later acknowledged by everyone involved as a grave error) led to a terrible start to the season that left them just three points clear of relegation when the January window opened. Considerable money was spent and considerable improvement ensued. But again, Pardew was given no credit and he began this season as one of the favourites for the sack. There was even a bizarre story after the first weekend's fixtures that Pardew was prepared to walk out of Newcastle and take the Crystal Palace job. It might have been nonsense but it added to the suspicion that this was a marriage on the rocks long before the seven-year itch.

Fast-forward a few months and we are looking at a table that sees Newcastle sitting above Tottenham and just two points behind a Southampton side who have been showered with media love for their astonishing start to the season. Similar praise for Newcastle is thin on the ground - in part presumably because of their Gallic heart but also because Pardew is not a character who appeals to the neutral (or indeed to many Geordies who will never be able to forgive his accent).

Victory over Norwich on Saturday was their third in succession - a feat they had not achieved since April 2012, when an unlikely sojourn in the Champions League was still a possibility. This recent upturn in form has not been an accident but has come about through a brave change of formation and personnel after the damaging defeat to Sunderland. For this at least, Pardew is owed credit.

On the face of it, swapping Ben Arfa for Shola Ameobi looks like exchanging gold for beans but it enabled Pardew to switch to a hard-working 4-4-2 formation. The front six of Moussa Sissoko (adding muscle to the right), Tiote, Cabaye, Yoan Gouffran (working incredibly hard on the left), Loic Remy and Ameobi has remained constant thoughout wins over Chelsea, Tottenham and now the Canaries. Ben Arfa may be Newcastle's most creative player but his propensity for wild shots and poor decision-making had no place in a Newcastle side that needed to start winning games.

Against Chelsea, Pardew pulled off the perfect tactical plan - allowing the Blues sterile domination and then hitting them on the counter-attack, a trick they repeated when they went to Tottenham. These tactics were possible because Pardew chose the pragmatic option of using Ameobi's size over Ben Arfa's guile and because he trusted Sissoko and Gouffran to transfer their hard work into wide positions. It may not make Newcastle particularly pretty but they have conceded just one goal in three games since the switch. They are organised, single-minded and incredibly lucky to have Remy in the kind of form that means he has needed only 32 shots to score eight Premier League goals.

Newcastle are currently eighth in the table and Pardew is second in a list of the Premier League's longest-serving managers - both achievements deserve praise. Having just watched Pardew on Sky Sports News saying that Newcastle "are playing in their own harmony", we have to admit that he's a difficult man to like. But maybe he deserves some belated respect.

Sarah Winterburn

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