Final Score: Newcastle United 1 Reading 2
THERE was an air of deja-vu circling around St James’ Park even if Alan Pardew dismissed suggestions that it was time for concerns to increase.
A fifth defeat in six matches since Newcastle United’s last victory over Queens Park Rangers a month ago was the result of an afternoon Pardew will be keen to forget.
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Whether it is as simple as that remains to be seen.
Newcastle are in trouble and for the first time since suffering relegation in 2009 fears of Championship football are growing in the stands, where owner Mike Ashley was sitting for the first time in a while.
Fairly or unfairly chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ greeted a couple of Pardew’s decisions after a largely positive first half display was undone after the restart.
And the boos at the final whistle – after watching Adam le Fondre emerge from the bench to score two goals inside seven minutes to cancel out Yohan Cabaye’s first half free-kick – summed up the feelings on Tyneside.
Throw in the fact wantaway skipper Fabricio Coloccini is set to have talks about his future with the club today, plus the desperation for new signings to lift the squad and it is easy to conclude that everything is far from rosy.
There is now at least a welcome break – if failing to reach the FA Cup fourth round can be described as such – this weekend for Newcastle to concentrate on adding to the squad and regrouping.
After winning just two wins from the last 18 in all competitions Pardew will be hoping it works.
“If we had seven games left, I would be worried, but we’ve got a lot of games left (15) and I think we’re getting our heads around it,” said Pardew, whose 16th-placed side sit just two points above three teams immediately below them.
“We spoke after the game about how the stadium can turn on one moment, which it did really. We have to be able to cope with that.
“I think our stadium is a little bit more intimidating than some and you have to accept you’re going to get setbacks in games, even when you’re winning.
“It will be important to get as good a points total as possible before then, but I think we’ll be more hardened to the situation by then.”
With Aston Villa, one of the teams below them, next up then Pardew could do with repairing the good relationship he has always had with the supporters since his appointment.
His post-match comments infuriated certain fans when he was asked to explain his reasoning for taking Yohan Cabaye off with 16 minutes remaining and the game at a crucial stage at 1-1.
“There was nothing really for me to do and, of course, the players and the fans here don’t want to see a great player go off the pitch,” said Pardew.
“And they’re not up for that logic that he was injured so it made it difficult for me because that negativity spread around the stadium and to the players.
“That’s what happens when you’re down the bottom, it was a negative stadium in the second half. There were a lot of ‘oos’ and ‘boos’.”
In truth the game was probably lost before that. He was roundly criticised, with boos ringing around the ground when Sylvain Marveaux was replaced with James Perch ten minutes beforehand.
At that stage Newcastle were a goal up and could have been out of sight. Before Cabaye had curled in a sweet 20-yard free-kick nine minutes before half-time, Papiss Cisse had had three brilliant chances.
On each occasion he was denied by the goalkeeping of Adam Federici.
The best save was when he spread his body to deny the striker from close range when he met Mathieu Debuchy’s ball into the area.
Had any of those chances gone in then things would have been a lot different.
Instead Pardew was left to explain his reasoning for starting with Shola Ameobi on the right of a three-man supply line behind Cisse.
“We were trying to find space for Sylvain between the lines,” said Pardew. “We did that well and created the freekick for the first goal, from a good bit of play.
“I don’t think it’s about shape or anything else. We looked a well-balanced team until such time as the injury to Yohan, then we looked disjointed.”
In fact Reading had actually controlled the second half without testing goalkeeper Tim Krul. Then le Fondre was introduced 20 minutes from time and the Royals got their rewards.
The equaliser arrived seconds later when his first touch was to bundle over Jimmy Kebe’s delivery with a hint of unintentional handball.
And the winner came six minutes later when he slotted in a precise side-foot finish when Kebe was left unmarked at the back past to nod where Hope Akpan and le Fondre were lurking.
A Stockport-born super sub who cost just £300,000 when signed from Rotherham United had done the damage, while Newcastle are looking to spend millions on promising foreign-based players this month.
Brian McDermott, the boss who was appointed chief scout by Pardew during his days at Reading, said: “It’s the team unity that’s helped me over the last three years.
“I’ve never had money, so if you don’t have it you can’t spend it and you have to find another way.
“You have to find a way to get a group of people together and I’ve got no problem with that.”
Now, whatever happens on the transfer front in the remaining ten days of January, it is team spirit which Pardew must rely on to get his team out of this latest sorry mess.