SCOTT WILSON COLUMN: Why Sunday's derby is more important to Pardew's position than Poyet's (From The Northern Echo)
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SCOTT WILSON COLUMN: Why Sunday's derby is more important to Pardew's position than Poyet's
FROM the minute Gustavo Poyet arrived at Sunderland, Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby with Newcastle United was immediately identified as a pivotal fixture.
It almost certainly will be, but while Poyet desperately needs a positive result to lift some of the negativity that continues to swirl around the Stadium of Light, it can be argued that the first derby of the season is even more important to his Tyneside rival, Alan Pardew.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will not define Sunderland’s season. The outcome of their relegation battle will do that, and while a victory over the auld enemy would provide a welcome fillip, it would mean very little if it was Millwall visiting the Stadium of Light next August rather than Manchester United.
Perhaps a win could spark a renaissance similar to the one that kept Sunderland up towards the end of last season, and perhaps a derby success so early in his career could boost Poyet’s popularity in the same way that Paolo Di Canio’s position was briefly strengthened when he helped mastermind April’s 3-0 win at St James’.
If it all goes wrong in two days time, however, no one will be blaming Sunderland’s new manager. Poyet has inherited an almighty mess from Di Canio, a squad that does not appear to be fit for purpose and fractured relationships that will need time to fully repair.
Two games in, and even the most fervent of Sunderland’s supporters will not be expecting miracles. That is not to say they will be ambivalent about the outcome, and it is not to say that there will not be repercussions if things do not go to plan. But their wrath will not be directed at Poyet, and the Uruguayan’s position will not really be weakened no matter what happens this weekend.
The same cannot be said of Pardew. It seems counterintuitive to be talking about the Newcastle boss desperately needing a positive result when his rival in the opposite dug-out is presiding over a team with the worst record over the first eight matches of any team in Premier League history, but that is where the Magpies manager finds himself as we head into derby day.
For all that the positive performances against Cardiff and Liverpool quelled much of the mutiny that was brewing in the wake of last month’s calamitous first-half performance at Everton, Pardew’s position remains dangerously insecure.
A sizeable section of the Newcastle support turned against him last season, and remain unconvinced that he is getting the best out of the squad at his disposal. It is never easy to interpret Mike Ashley’s intentions, but the owner was clearly unhappy with Pardew’s performance last term, hence the much-publicised debriefing session at the end of the campaign, and nothing has happened since to suggest the pair’s relationship has improved.
A personal opinion is that Pardew deserves much more credit than he has received for holding things together in a hugely politicised environment and guiding Newcastle into a top-ten position despite Loic Remy being the only player to arrive this summer. I also find it incomprehensible that so many supporters yearn for his dismissal when the likeliest replacement remains the cartoon-like Joe Kinnear, despite the director of football’s supposed reluctance to return to a managerial post.
Nevertheless, that is where we find ourselves as derby-day looms, and there are two reasons why Pardew cannot afford another slip up.
The first is that the memory of April’s home humiliation continues to bite. Newcastle supporters are unaccustomed to being embarrassed by their local rivals, and there is an enduring sense that Pardew got it wrong against Di Canio, failing to fire up his players in the same way that the Italian briefly energised the Sunderland squad.
Pardew cannot call on a positive derby record to rebut that criticism as one win from five matches is a poor return given that Newcastle have invariably been above Sunderland in the table when the two sides have met.
Should his record in one fixture matter so much? That leads us to the second reason why Sunday’s game is of such significance to Newcastle and Pardew in particular.
The Magpies are not going to be relegated this season. Similarly, they are extremely unlikely to be challenging for Europe given the way that Liverpool and Tottenham have improved to transform the ‘big four’ into a ‘big five or six’.
So what does that leave to determine how Newcastle’s season is assessed? The cups, undoubtedly, with Wednesday’s Capital One Cup game with Manchester City making it two hugely important matches in the space of four days.
And the derbies. When it comes to the perception of how the campaign is going – and often that is far more important than the statistical proof provided by league tables or win ratios – Sunday’s performance against Sunderland will go a long way towards determining the mood at Newcastle for the remainder of the year.
Win, and the glass will be half full, with Pardew’s position strengthened. Lose, though, and the grumblings will intensify, the fans will grow increasingly mutinous and Pardew will be an embattled manager once again.
It seems unfair that one result carries such significance, but that is the way of it in the North-East, particularly when any tangible achievement feels further away than ever.
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