Newcastle enjoy some Christmas cheer as last year's fraught festive memories fade

The Northern Echo: HAPPIER CHRISTMAS: Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is in a much better mood this Christmas than he was 12 months ago HAPPIER CHRISTMAS: Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is in a much better mood this Christmas than he was 12 months ago

TWELVE months after cancelling Christmas, Alan Pardew claims Newcastle United will be heading into this year's festivities in a much more celebratory mood.

The Magpies kick off the festive schedule with a trip to Crystal Palace this afternoon, two days after the whole of the squad and backroom staff enjoyed a Christmas meal at the club's Longbenton training ground.

Last year, with injuries beginning to bite, Christmas proved a problematic period as a 4-3 defeat at Manchester United on Boxing Day was followed by a calamitous 7-3 reverse at Arsenal three days later.

Things should be much less chaotic this time around, with no one on the long-term injured list and the fixture list having thrown up back-to-back home games against Stoke City and Arsenal between Christmas and New Year.

“It's a very different Christmas,” said Pardew, whose side are nine places better off than at the same time 12 months ago. “In fact, we cancelled Christmas last year! There were some warning signs for us this time last year, that our schedule was going to be tough. We had a couple of key injuries, and our results weren't particularly great.

“That's a big problem in this period. The games come thick and fast, and you don't even have time to recover. We came into it after the Europa League programme, which ended last week for Swansea and Spurs, and then bang, we were straight into all the Christmas games. It's tough, and it hurt us last year for sure.

“We can enjoy Christmas a bit more this time around. We had our Christmas lunch at the training ground, and the chef did a marvellous job. I even had some brandy butter! That wasn't even on the menu 12 months ago.”

Last year's festive period helped send Newcastle into a tail-spin that was only really rectified when they won at QPR on the penultimate weekend of the season.

The Boxing Day defeat at Old Trafford was somewhat unfortunate, but the seven-goal collapse at the Emirates exposed some major defensive deficiencies in a line-up that featured James Perch partnering Fabricio Coloccini at centre-half.

Gael Bigirimana also started in an experimental midfield, and by the time they lost at home to Everton on New Year's Day, Newcastle had dropped to within two places of the relegation zone.

Their plight forced Mike Ashley to fund a January spending spree that saw five new faces arrive at St James' Park, and while it took a while for the majority to find their feet, back-to-back spring wins over Aston Villa and Chelsea helped arrest the club's decline.

Tellingly, Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran are now playing a major role in Newcastle's surge up the table, and the development of last January's signings, allied to a Europa League run that took the Magpies all the way to the last eight of a major European competition, means 2013 can be considered a qualified success.

“We had a strange end to last season, although we had some real highs,” said Pardew. “The Benfica games being the leading example. Then there were some real lows too. The biggest problems for us were tiredness and injury to the group, and in the second half of the year, with the preparation we've had, you can see the difference with not being in the Europa League.

“On reflection, you have to say the Europa League had a massive impact. There's been a response to what happened last year, but I genuinely felt that we were being a little bit harshly treated.

“We had five new players coming in during the transfer window, and they were always going to need to settle in. Then with injuries to key players, along with the Europa League, there was a little bit of a loss of confidence.

“But when we got to the summer and looked back on the business we'd done, I genuinely felt that there wasn't a lot wrong.”

As a result, Newcastle only signed Loic Remy on loan during the summer, and while some felt the club would struggle without new blood, Pardew was always confident the current Premier League campaign would represent a marked improvement on the last one.

“We just had to tweak it a little bit, and then I thought we could get it going again,” he said, “We've managed to do that so far, although there's obviously a long way to go this season. But I've been really pleased with the attitude and application shown.

“The guys (who arrived in January) have settled in now, and they're looking a lot stronger. I look at Tottenham's position where the manager has just lost his job, and what did they bring in? Eight players?

“It's very difficult to bring in so many new faces and make it gel. It's difficult for all the other players as well. I like to think that when we reflect on that January window, it wasn't a knee-jerk reaction. We needed some new players, and we went and got players that we knew.”

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