ALAN PARDEW admits Newcastle United have struggled to provide a goal threat in recent weeks – but rather than work with his shot-shy strikers, the Magpies manager has spent the last week attempting to shore up his defence.
Newcastle have failed to score in ten of their last 14 league games, a record that helps explain why their European push has faltered as they have slipped to ninth in the table.
In the absence of Loic Remy, who continues to nurse a calf injury, and Yohan Cabaye, who left in January to join Paris St Germain, United have lacked both creativity and a cutting edge in front of goal.
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But in the wake of last weekend’s dreadful 4-0 defeat at Southampton, Pardew has shifted his focus from attack to defence.
Newcastle were ripped apart repeatedly at St Mary’s, and if they are to avoid a repeat in today’s game with Manchester United, they will have to establish a much securer defensive platform.
The personnel is unlikely to change – apart from Davide Santon starting ahead of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who he replaced at half-time last weekend – but Pardew is hoping a shift in attitude and organisation will lead to a radically different result.
“The lack of goals is not something that was unrecognised from last year,” said the Newcastle boss. “We struggled to score in the back end of last year, but addressed that by moving Cabaye into the number ten role and getting in Loic on loan.
“Now, both of those aren’t around so we’re back to where we are. Somewhere along the line, we need to get goals. We’re very focused on that, but you can’t take away that you need a foundation to score goals, and our problem at Southampton was that we didn’t have that foundation.
“In (most of) the games we’ve played this year, we’ve had a good foundation to try to score goals, but if you lose that side of it, you’ve got no chance. That’s been my priority this week – not so much scoring goals, but getting us a foundation and a desire in the game.”
Pardew was particularly disappointed with the way in which his side were unable to respond to Southampton’s barrage of second-half goals last weekend, with each concession resulting in the Magpies becoming more and more ragged.
While Manchester United might not be the side they once were, nobody has recorded more Premier League away wins than the reigning champions this season, with David Moyes’ side having scored at least two goals in 11 of their 16 Premier League away games.
It will be interesting to see who Moyes selects this afternoon given that Manchester United will be heading to Germany next week for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich, but his attacking resources remain reasonably plentiful with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez all available.
There is a strong likelihood that Newcastle will concede at some stage today, and if they do, Pardew is looking for a much better response than the ones his side produced at Southampton.
“One of the stats you’ll often see is that the team who scores first wins 74 per cent of the time,” he said. “That’s why reacting to a goal is so important.
“It doesn’t mean you have to go straight back up the other end to try to score – you might have to take time to get that goal to get back into the game.
“We fell down at Southampton because we didn’t react well to the goals. Whether we were trying to score a goal quickly, or trying to defend to not go further behind, that was the most disappointing thing last weekend. We have to be better in our reaction to the goals.”
Newcastle have not recorded a league double over Manchester United since 1931, but the reigning Premier League champions will travel to Tyneside lying outside the European places in seventh position.
They have been bitterly disappointing for the majority of the season, but finally showed some glimpses of life as they held Bayern Munich to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last week.
“It’s going to be difficult against Man United because they have had a little upsurge, particularly against Munich when they were terrific,” said Pardew. “They will bring that bounce in their step to our place, and we are on the back of a really poor result and performance.
“You would have to say everything points to them winning, so it is up to us to make sure we can turn that around.
"It's a great fixture in the calendar, and it's very rare for it to be at 3pm on a Saturday, which perhaps shows where the two clubs are, in particular this week.
“I'm really looking forward to it. Firstly, I want to get that Southampton performance out of my system, and I expect the players to be like that.
“I'm hungry to get that second win over them (Man United) this season. The desire's fitting in for us this week, and I hope that's reflected in the performance.”