AS he left Old Trafford on Boxing Day, Alan Pardew could have been forgiven for feeling punch drunk. Unhappy with his side's defending in their chaotic 4-3 defeat to Manchester United, the problems facing the Newcastle United manager continue to mount.
Arsenal will be the Magpies' opponents at the Emirates in two days time, and at the moment simply getting a team on to the field in north London will be an achievement.
Vurnon Anita left the pitch on a stretcher yesterday afternoon after his ankle was damaged by a foul from Antonio Valencia and the Dutch midfielder will be assessed later today.
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Jonas Gutierrez, who played no part at Old Trafford, is due to have an injection in his knee and has been ruled out of both Saturday's game and next week's home match with Everton. Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Steven Taylor will also be absent.
Cheik Tiote will return from suspension at the Emirates, but is due to depart to the Africa Cup of Nations next week, while Mike Williamson is suspended on Saturday after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Manchester United.
Whatever Pardew was hoping for at Christmas, you can bet your bottom dollar it wasn't all of that.
“I was upset with the tackle on Anita,” said the Newcastle boss. “I thought it got lost a little bit (with everything else that happened). I've seen it again and I don't think it was malicious. I don't think Valencia has tried to hurt the player, he's just timed it badly, but unfortunately for us it might cost us a player.
“It's too early to say how long he will be out for, but it's a bang on the ankle and we'll have to wait and see whether he'll make Arsenal. He would be a loss to us because I thought he was terrific today.
“You could argue our whole midfield from last year was out – we had no Gutierrez, Tiote, Cabaye or Ben Arfa. Our midfield did so well though, brilliantly well, particularly Anita. So he will be a loss to us.”
The blow might have been softened had Pardew been celebrating a success yesterday evening, but instead he was left to rue some costly defensive errors as Newcastle conceded the lead on three separate occasions before watching on aghast as Javier Hernandez claimed a 90th-minute winner.
Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini were nowhere to be seen as Hernandez converted Michael Carrick's chipped cross, and while the Magpies were forced to field an inexperienced midfield with so many key players absent, Pardew was disappointed at the failings of his first-choice defence.
“We've come here against an experienced side and probably lacked a bit of experience in the midfield in the second half,” he said. “But we've got to defend better than we did.
“That back four has been together for a while with our goalkeeper and my expectations of them would have been greater today. I was disappointed with the goals they conceded, especially the last one.
“We had a game plan to take the game to Man United. We put a lot of pressure on them, on the break in particular. But we came away with nothing and after the way we played offensively, we're disappointed with that.”
Going forward, Newcastle threatened throughout, and as well as scoring through James Perch, Papiss Cisse and an own goal from Jonny Evans, the visitors also hit the woodwork on two separate occasions.
“I just felt that for the whole game, we had a goal in us,” said Pardew. “Whatever the score was, I thought we could score again. I said to the players at half-time, 'You have to expect Man United will score'. We needed to have the same attitude in the second half.
“I thought the key moment was probably from Sammy Ameobi of all people. He came off the bench and I thought that was in, but it hit the inside of the post and went into the goalie's hands. I did think to myself then it might not be our day.”