NEWCASTLE UNITED head to Stoke City this afternoon with manager Alan Pardew admitting the club’s relationship with its supporters is under severe strain.
Last weekend’s 4-0 home defeat to Manchester United followed hot on the heels of similarly emphatic reverses to Southampton and Everton which have led to accusations that Newcastle’s players have already switched off for the summer.
Pardew has also experienced mounting personal criticism, with his position being questioned by a growing number of fans, who are disillusioned at the Magpies’ dreadful form since the turn of the year.
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The tensions go much deeper than what is happening on the pitch, with the controversies attached to Mike Ashley’s tenure contributing to a sense of detachment amongst a fan base that continues to loyally trudge through the turnstiles.
That detachment will not be addressed overnight, but in the short term, Pardew accepts the pressing need for a positive performance and result at the Britannia Stadium later today.
“I think we’re at one of our lowest ebbs in terms of that (the relationship with the fans),” said the Newcastle boss. “I can think of the Cup defeat to Cardiff when it was a similar kind of feeling to this week. Then, people were saying we weren’t bothered about the Cup. Now, they’re saying we’re not bothered about the league!
“It does feel a little bit like that. You get those spells in seasons, unfortunately, and I want this spell to end because, up until this last period, the season has been pretty strong.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve been at our maximum, but we haven’t been far from it for long periods of the season. In this bit, we’ve been way under it, and we’ve got to get that back.”
Earlier this week, an internet poll revealed a large majority of Newcastle fans expressing a desire for Pardew to leave.
That will not happen no matter what happens in the final month of the season, with this week’s appointment of Lee Charnley as managing director underlining Ashley’s continued faith in a managerial model featuring Pardew in a prominent role.
Well-placed sources suggest Ashley does not hold Pardew responsible for Newcastle’s alarming post-Christmas slump, but the Magpies boss accepts that his position will become increasingly untenable if results do not improve.
Over the course of the last three matches, Newcastle have the worst record in the league, and while last month’s victories over Crystal Palace and Hull City mean they should still finish in the top half of the table, there is a sense that today’s game could still be something of a watershed moment if things do not go to plan.
“If you get beat by Everton, Southampton and Manchester United and do a poll, it’s going to be pretty obvious what will come out,” said Pardew. “I have to accept that.
“I think the point of being the manager of this football club, and more importantly a player here, is that you need to have a resilience about you. You need to be able to accept criticism, take it, and then come back and produce your best.
“We’re not Man United - although maybe they’re not the right example at the moment – we’re not Chelsea or Manchester City, where you win every week.
“We’re a big club, but we don’t win every week so there’s huge pressure on us and it builds. With two or three defeats, it builds very, very quickly.
“When we beat Crystal Palace, I don’t think those noises would have been there, but these three defeats have put pressure on me and the team, and we need to come out fighting.”
Pardew’s personal difficulties are exacerbated by the touchline ban that continues to create a sense of detachment between him and his players.
Today’s game will be the penultimate occasion he has to watch his side from the stands, and last weekend, he was on the receiving end of some abuse from the home supporters in the Milburn Stand at St James’.
This afternoon, he will be sitting among the Stoke fans at the Britannia Stadium, but he understands why Newcastle’s supporters are so frustrated and insists he is doing all he can to ensure they experience a more enjoyable end to the season.
“It is what it is, and I can’t detract from that,” said Pardew. “I know there were reports I got stick (last weekend), but it was acceptable to me. I’ve been in some pretty volatile stands in my time.
“It’s not something I’m comfortable with because I want our fans to be cheering me and wishing me well as I walk up and down the stairs. At the minute, they’re angry – they want to see better performances on the pitch and a result more than anything.”