ALAN PARDEW has had to do a certain amount of soul searching as he continues to suffer his leanest spell in charge of Newcastle United.
This time last year, the Magpies were seventh in the Premier League table, ten points off second place, in a division they would eventually finish fifth.
Now, they stand 14th, two points off the drop zone, with Manchester City up next and Manchester United and Arsenal in the near future.
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Northern Echo Sport has identified six reasons for Newcastle's drop in form and Pardew gives his reasons why it is or is not the case.
A change in preparations for games?
“This is an area fans are getting a bit of a misconception about us, Because of the length of our deals, there is a suggestion we’re not working as hard or something like that - it’s absolutely ridiculous.
“You actually work harder in these periods. It’s not a question of security or money, it’s about winning. We want to win. We are hurting, all of us.
“What you can’t do is overload the information. The preparation we did for games last year, is no different. We’ve kept it very similar.
“Tactically, we’ve changed certain things about preparation, but the way we prepare for the opposition, what is said, and where our mindset is before we go into a game is very similar to last year, when we were missing five or six games on the trot. I think that is important.
“For me, I have to try and not be too overanalytical. I have to try and get the balance right. That’s what you have to do at this time. It’s a difficult time.
“A lot of the players here have only experienced good times at this club, this is the first time since relegation that this club has faced a difficult period like this, one or two players are finding that difficult to deal with.”
The eight-year contract?
“That contract was probably agreed before Tottenham (first game of season), the timing of signing it was insignificant in terms of results. Mike wants stability at the club. He has put me under no pressure during this period, other than to ask ‘can I help you any more’. That’s it.
“But there is always going to be external pressure, from fans who want more and the media, because that’s their job. In the world you’re in, when a manager has lost five of his last six games, or however you want to look at it - I have to look at the bigger picture and take a balanced view. But that doesn’t mean my total focus is not on Manchester City and getting a win, for my fans and for the team.”
Have the opposition found you out this season?
“No, I think that’s a little bit unfair, because I think that if you’re a good side, you’re a good side and you find a way.
But the injuries and the suspensions and the Europa League, you can’t say that hasn’t had an impact. Any logical football person, even our harshest critic as a fan, would say it’s had an impact.
“It’s knocked some momentum out of us, whereas last year, when you have that momentum, you don’t really have to think very much.
“Are we working as hard as we were? Yes. In fact, you don’t have to work so hard when you have some momentum, because the players are in a good place and you rollover from game to game, tweaking things here and there. When results are bad, you’re working a lot harder.”
Injuries and bad luck?
“It is a combination of things. There is not one big reason for it. You have to balance some of the criticism. Some of it has been fair, some of it has not been fair. I have to sift through that and I do with that the players privately.
“They know how I feel after Fulham. I was disappointed with some of our performances. If we are going to get any sort of result against Manchester City, it has to be a lot better. It’s a balancing act between encouragement and criticism.”
Newcastle's big players not firing?
“You have to think about what stimulates the player. Cheik’s performance against Fulham was hot and cold, actually, he did a lot of really good things in that game. His stats look really good, but he made two or three big errors which almost cost us a goal, which is unusual for him. It’s not a major issue.
“It’s not like he was struggling to get around the pitch of that his percentage of passing was way down. That would be a major concern, but there isn’t a lot to be concerned about with him.
“Jonas, on the other hand, has had a difficult season and I think we’re looking to get a little bit more from him. We want him to be more positive and give us a little more je ne sais quoi in the final third.
“He is battling for that at this moment in time. He’s a player who has done great for us and I have faith in him. I hope he repays that.”
Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse cannot play together
“That’s a process we’re looking at, to try and get the best out of them. We do sometimes change within a game, like we do at Fulham, to try and do that. Obviously the opposition try to disrupt that.
“They don’t want them to play well, so we have to find a way where they contribute. I thought at Fulham they did some good things. That’s not to say we can’t improve it.
“We’re still working to get the best out of them.
“We need Cisse scoring goals for this football clubs. We need him scoring special goals. It is a process we have done some work on.”