May 23, 2013

Deconstructing (2012/13)


Twelve months was all it took.  From almost within grasping distance of the cloth Europe’s top table, to dangling over the pit of relegation; finger nails clawing desperately at the ground halting the descent in nick of time.  Just how do you explain going from a 5th place finish to 16th in a single season?  A mammoth 24pts difference in no more than twelve calendar months.  Even by the unwanted historical standards of the Newcastle United rollercoaster, the ascent to descent process has been staggeringly dramatic – but as every ascent can be taken without question, every dramatic descent demands an answer.  Unsurprisingly, it’s complicated…

As early as August last year it was becoming apparent that things weren’t running smoothly, but as vociferous attention was draw towards the stuttering lack of investment in the playing staff an equally troublesome problem in the way of squad fitness grew largely unnoticed.  In an intentionally bullish season preview in mid-August, it was noted:

“…pre-season preparations for the squad itself have again been lacking finesse.  Hastily arranged, then re-arranged fixtures altered destinations drastically – a long-haul to South Africa became neutral friendlies on European soil with a strange frequency.  Add into the mix the extended holiday for those on European Championship or international duty and all of a sudden games were falling at inconvenient times to reintroduce players into the cycle.  Some players, particularly Marveaux and Steven Taylor gathered valuable playing time – adversely key figures Cabaye and Ben Arfa received mere minutes and once again look unlikely to start the season fully fit.”

The problem was there to be seen, and an early season fixture pile-up involving Europa league qualifiers and a still open transfer window only served to distract eyes from that particular problem.  The inability to add players capable of first team duty to the squad in the summer has been lambasted, righty, throughout the season – but through our woeful preparations a ‘paper thin’ squad simply became an ‘unfit, paper-thin squad’.  Fail to prepare, prepare to fail…

With this ‘unfit, paper-thin’ squad embarking what ended up being 52 game season, in retrospect it’s little surprise the injuries came thick and fast.  Of the 15 remaining players that travelled to Everton on the final game of the 2011/12 season, ten (2/3) suffered injuries during this season which kept them out for more than two consecutive games.  Most, and examples come no better than Tiote, Cabaye and Ben Arfa, were plagued by injury and lack of fitness for large portions of the season, if not the entire season itself.  Injuries are always to be expected – the case of the desperately unfortunate Ryan Taylor a timely reminder; however the correlation between poorly conditioned players and the extent of injuries is striking – even with the well documented demands of a Europa League campaign which regularly saw a raft of youngsters take to the field in the place of our league starters.

Heavy hope was place upon the youngsters at the fringes who held glowing individual reputations.  The likes of Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson had made positive cameos in the season(s) previous and were to have their big chance as the games piled up.  However, the big chance turned out to be simply a big ask, as their predominant use in the cup competitions yielded a sour cocktail of nerves, positional indiscipline and flat lack of ability.  Simply, it was too much, too soon – the defeats to Bordeaux and Brighton in the cups bringing heavy criticism from Pardew, which was mostly justified.  However the expectation placed upon them by using so many youngsters in one go does beg the question of was much more really expected of them?   Either way, the hope that the youth would shore up the squad’s lack of investment faded quickly and as injuries arrived to the senior players, the youth mostly entered the fray as nothing more than a name to fulfil the required squad quota.

Injuries were a popular gripe for reigning manager of year Alan Pardew, and at least until the influx of players in January there was sympathy for him.  The cracks had spread further than he cared to admit though; a perplexing early season insistence on making a 442 formation work without the benefit of a single winger capable of providing service to the forward line (or a full team for that matter) saw play degenerate into the ugly and direct with the score-lines to match.  The problem was the more Pardew persisted the more his eye was drawn away from the fundamentals of why it wasn’t working.  His post-match (typically post-defeat) reasoning becoming increasingly desperate, bemoaning lack of fitness and lack of experience on an almost weekly basis in the first half of the season and European participation for almost the entire season, when viable plan A (let alone a plan B) didn’t exist.  That is of course unless a viable plan A consists of firing the ball directly to the forwards from depths of 20,000 leagues under the sea…

As said, sympathies could have been offered for much of what he was having to work with, but in blunt truth NUFC were underperforming from the off and never rose above 10th position from as early as the start of October – 6 games into the season.   Even when a drastic change of tact presented a Newcastle side playing the ball out from the back to comfortably beat 10 man Wigan (numerical advantage noted) the improvement in play was scrapped in favour of the kick and rush nonsense that had reaped so little reward earlier in the season.  And as if the basics of play weren’t failing enough, the specifics in team selection and strategy both before and during games were frankly inexcusable – the personal pinnacle of which saw Shola Ameobi be selected, by choice, to face the carthorse that is Ian Harte in a Reading side that was as weak as any to visit St James’ Park in living memory.

But that was only the surface of the problem.  On multiple occasions it appeared from a far that despite working with most of the players for well over a year, Pardew didn’t seem to understand them all quite as much as you’d expect.  Natural poacher Papiss Cisse was shoved to right wing; attacker Sylvain Marveaux was deployed in a covering role against the buccaneering Leighton Baines; passing midfielder Vurnon Anita was simply played anywhere – and in one game changed positions no fewer than three time.  Jonas Gutierrez and Chieck Tiote can never claim to have been in good form over a reasonable string of games this season and yet were picked without question – Vurnon Anita and Sylvian Marveaux hit form only to be benched or not involved at all.

The players themselves cannot hide either.  Alan Pardew and his coaching team has rightly shouldered much of the blame, but at the times he did get the game plan right there was many where he was let down by the indiscipline and astonishing errors of his players.  Cheick Tiote turned a stroll in the Stadium of Light into a flat draw; Davide Santon and Steven Taylor went hand-in-hand in personally costing a potential Europa League semi-final place at the real Stadium of Light in Lisbon.  The thrashing at home to Liverpool may have had some manager input, but the surrender of the players that day stole the show at a level of effort that no professional should ever sink as low as.  It could be argued that by that point even the players had just had enough of the season…

So, where did it all fall down?  The simple answer is there isn’t one.  Luck with injuries can be countered by the scandalous conditioning and equally scandalous lack of investment at the beginning of the season.  The mid-season influx of players can go some way to arguing the squad ended the season strong enough, but how much could have seriously been expected from players that as yet haven’t even been in Newcastle upon Tyne for a full six months?  Was too much hope misplaced upon progression of the youngsters or have we only served to terminally destroy the confidence of young lads who were used up in frantic desperation?  As the season has drawn to a close, Alan Pardew has received a barrage of criticism – little of which he can claim to be unfair, but those he relies upon have ultimately let him down as much as the reverse is true.

As complex and intertwined the problems have been this season, the simplicity is; aesthetically, statistically and emotionally, it’s been ugly.  Ultimately, fortune favoured us enough that a combination of last gasp goals and other team’s ineptitude combined to help us narrowly avoid relegation. And whether they are or not, lessons must be learned save for the next time we’re not fortunate… Good riddance to 2012/13.

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  • a very well written & intelligent piece. hard to disagree with any of it.

    my take on 2012/2013 is at

  • More than deserves a reprint in The Journal tomorrow…

  • For me the big issue was the pre-season international disruption and Pardew’s bizarrely sticking to 4-4-2, which must have been on the back of a promise made to Ba.

    We wont have either of these issues, so if we can add one or two, we’ll be top six next season.

  • Sensible and well reasoned blog, but the prime ‘culprit’ has to be the manager. He took the credit and the awards last season so he has to shoulder the blame this season. Thin, unfit squad; poor team selection; lack of tactical nous in the Premier League; seeming lack of motivational qualities – how many decent first halves have turned into boring disasters in the second half? The last three home games were as dreadful as any I have seen in the last 60 years,

  • Isn’t it so strange that every fan, supporter and critic outside of the Newcastle boardroom can see the glaringly obvious problems that exist at our club, yet nothing or no one is looking at the big picture.
    In any other walk of life, you perform as our manager has and you would not have lasted 6 months. How can we possibly achieve stability when the foundations are crumbling away.It surely doesn’t matter how long their contracts are, wrong is wrong whichever way you choose to look at it.
    Pardew should have walked at the end of last season but he didn’t have the balls to be man enough, probably knowing that with his CV, that would have been his demise. Shame for the rest of the footballing world.!
    I have been a supporter for over 50 years and never known such despair as last season. I will give him 6 games of the new season before his game is up, surely the shopkeeper must pull the trigger. !

  • Re: Porciestreet

    Everton finished 13th, 7th, then 17th in Moyes’ first 2 and a half seasons in charge. Should the Everton board have sacked him?

    Pardew has finished 12th, 5th and 16th. Not too different.

    We finally have managerial stability for the first time since Ashley took over. Mistakes will be made but as long as they are learned from then we should support Pardew. How well has getting rid of managers on impluse worked for us in the past?

    For me the disastrous series of events that led to our relegation in the 2008-09 season was far worse than what we’ve gone through this season.

  • Re: David Wilson

    Two things, because I’m tired of these facile comparisons to other managers.

    1.) Similarities in finishes aside, I have never seen a Moyes team quit like I’ve seen our squad do this season. That’s down to the manager and coaches.

    2.) What did Moyes achieve in 11 seasons at a club with owners far more willing to spend on the squad (Fellaini alone cost 15M; last player we bought at that price point was Luque) than ours?

  • Also, this season disappoints me more than the relegation season because our squad then was largely made up of mercenaries and chancers: Owen, Beye, Duff, Bassong, Martins, Sibierski, etc.

    Now we run out, every week, a squad valued higher than all but 6 clubs in the league featuring full internationals from France (4), Holland (2), Argentina (2), Italy, Ivory Coast, Senegal, etc. and play dismal hoofball that every decent manager in the league has completely sussed.

  • Re: tunyc

    In relation to point 1, I’m pretty sure most of the Everton fans will agree that the 2003-04 season was desperate in terms of performance, can’t quite remember how much effort the team put in.

    Our performances have been awful at times and some of the decisions Pardew has made have been more than questionable. But out of those international players, how many have been regularly playing? And how do you account for the demise of Tiote? Last season you could have moulded your team around him, this year he’s been a liability. Whether that’s personal issues, or lack of motivation from management, I don’t know. Pardew can take some flak for not dropping him, but options have been limited.

    The main reason we finished 5th last season is that we had a fairly settled side. Our back 4 didn’t change for most of the first half of the season. We haven’t had that this year. Can’t really blame Pardew for that. You can possibly blame some of the coaching / training methods.

    Not sure what you’re getting at with point 2. Which managers outside the top 4 teams have really achieved anything? He’s managed a middling Premier League team with limited resources and not finished lower than 8th in the last 7 seasons, and often pushed for CL places. Given what we’ve been through recently I’d be more than happy with that. Moyes’ lack of a trophy tarnishes his record but he’s hardly had masses of cash to throw around. What he has had came from selling good players. Your example of Luque, we bought him for £9.5m, pretty sure we spent about that much on Cisse not too long ago, Coloccini was £10m, and let’s not forget £17m on Michael Owen.

    Our history is littered with overspending on average players. At least Fellaini has proven to be a good buy at £15m. More than can be said for the likes of Owen, Boumsong, Luque, Viana etc.

    If you really think getting rid of Pardew is a good idea then fine, but given our history I can’t see the value in it. Only Chelsea have had success from regularly changing managers, but that’s helped by the seemingly limitless funds they can use for transfers and wages.

  • Sibierski left NUFC 2 years before relegation

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