WITH Davide Santon set to continue in central midfield as Newcastle United host Tottenham tonight, Alan Pardew has described the Italian as ‘the Magpies’ Phil Neville’.
With Cheik Tiote injured and Yohan Cabaye having been sold to Paris St Germain, Santon switched from his usual left-back role to shore up the heart of Newcastle’s midfield in last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Chelsea.
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MEN OF MANY TALENTS: Newcastle’s Davide Santon has played a number of roles this season, similar to former Everton man Phil Neville
While opinion over his performance at Stamford Bridge was divided, a statistical analysis of Saturday’s game shows he recorded a 95 per cent pass completion rate and made six interceptions despite being up against one of the best midfield units in the country.
His versatility has proved extremely valuable, and led Pardew to liken him to Neville, who plugged a variety of gaps for Manchester United, Everton and England during a career that saw him achieve a number of honours, even if personal acclaim tended to elude him.
A case of damning with faint praise? That’s certainly one interpretation, although Pardew’s comparison with Neville was intended to illustrate Santon’s multiple strengths rather than acknowledge any weaknesses.
“When I look at someone like Phil Neville, Santon could in my opinion be the Phil Neville of this football club,” said the Newcastle boss. “A kind of unsung hero, like Phil was at Man United. You look at when they won trophies, he was very important.
“The important thing is that Davide’s got a long-term future at this club. He’s still only young, and is gaining such experience.
“He can play right-back, left-back and now he has shown he can play central midfield, so you’re looking at one very important player.”
While Santon will continue at the heart of midfield tonight, Pardew has a decision to make as he attempts to assemble a strike unit capable of ending a wretched run that has seen Newcastle fail to score in six of their last seven league matches.
Loic Remy is still suspended as he serves the final game of the three-match ban that was imposed in the wake of his dismissal at Norwich, but Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran are hoping to be available as their injury problems recede.
Luuk de Jong will also come into the equation, and while the Dutchman was unable to find the net as he made his Magpies debut at the weekend, Pardew was satisfied with his January signing's performance at Stamford Bridge.
“He’s settled in very well,” he said. “He knows Tim (Krul) very well and they look like brothers at times. I thought he did very well on Saturday against a really fired-up Chelsea.
“Jose (Mourinho) had Chelsea in a place where they were thinking, ‘No slip-ups after beating Manchester City’, but I thought he did everything he could with the service he had. He never gave the ball away, he was strong and took the ball in.
“He didn’t have much goal threat, but we didn’t give him those opportunities and I thought the rest of his play was terrific. I was pleased with that, and I think he was too. He’s getting games now, and if we get the best team around him, we’ll get the best out of him for sure.”
Today’s game is Pardew’s 150th in charge of Newcastle, and his record to date features 57 wins and 56 defeats.
He is the second-longest serving manager in the Premier League behind Arsene Wenger, and while he has been forced to ride out multiple crises during his 38-month reign, he remains as committed to bringing success to Newcastle as ever.
“It’s a job where the passion from the fans can’t help but inspire you,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed 90 per cent of my time, but I’ve lost some emotional games like Sunderland and the cup games, which is tough to take at a club desperate to win a trophy.
“There is pride in doing a good job, and we have played some fantastic football and achieved some unbelievable results. By the time I reach my next landmark, which is 200, hopefully we will have the trophy the fans are so desperate to win.”
His opposite number tonight is at the opposite end of his managerial career, with Tim Sherwood having presided over just 11 matches since his appointment as Spurs boss in December.
Andre Villas-Boas was in charge of Spurs when the London club suffered a 1-0 defeat on Tyneside in November, but the Portuguese was dismissed in the wake of a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Liverpool.
Villas-Boas presided over Tottenham's progression from the Europa League in the first half of the season, and with first-hand experience of the competition's negative impact on a club's league performance after Newcastle's form dipped markedly last term, Pardew feels the former Spurs boss would still have been in position had his side not had to juggle domestic concerns with the demands of Europe's secondary competition.
England's other two Europa League representatives – Swansea and Wigan – have also changed managers this term, fuelling Pardew's resentment at the way the competition is currently organised.
“It's not surprising that all the Europa League managers in the Premier League (and Championship) have been sacked,” he said. “I don't think that on the Sunday after the Thursday night, you can get to the level you need to as a team for the Premier League. I've been saying that ever since Stoke warned me about it when I went into it.”