ALAN PARDEW accepts he will have no scope for excuses if Newcastle United fail to improve on last season’s performance over the course of the next nine months.
The Magpies kick off the new Premier League season when they entertain Manchester City tomorrow, with their primary aim an improvement on last season’s tenth-placed finish, which was achieved despite a run of 11 defeats in the last 15 matches.
That sequence almost cost Pardew his job, with a large section of Newcastle’s fanbase demanding his dismissal in the final month of the campaign.
At the time, the Magpies manager could point to a lack of squad depth as a key mitigating factor, with owner Mike Ashley having failed to replace star midfielder Yohan Cabaye after he joined Paris St Germain during the January transfer window.
Since then, Ashley has funded the acquisition of nine new players (two of whom – Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow - were immediately loaned back to their parent club, Nottingham Forest) and as he prepares to lead his side into action tomorrow, Pardew has admitted he cannot complain about the support he has received or the amount of talent now at his disposal.
“We have more depth and quality now,” said the Newcastle boss. “When I signed a long contract with Mike and the club, I think we knew there would be ups and downs for both of us.
“But it was fairly obvious that he (Ashley) listened to me at the back end of last year, and the support I’ve had in terms of the signing of the new players is exactly what was needed.
“I’ve nothing to moan about now in terms of what’s happened this summer. We’ve got a strong squad – perhaps the biggest and best I’ve ever had in terms of options – so we’re in a great position.”
The mood among Newcastle supporters ahead of the new campaign is certainly more upbeat, with the arrival of the likes of Siem de Jong, who is unavailable tomorrow because of injury, and Remy Cabella having swept away much of the despondency that was apparent in the latter stages of last season.
However, whether that translates into a higher degree of personal support for Pardew remains to be seen, with the manager still a somewhat divisive figure amongst the rank and file at St James’ Park.
To some, the Newcastle manager has always been an honest professional trying to make the best of some almost intolerable off-field conditions that inevitably result in him being the public face of a deeply unpopular regime.
To others, he is an integral part of the problem, with his failure to stand up to Ashley and his perceived inability to get the best out of certain players handicapping Newcastle regardless of what decisions are made above him.
As ever, results will go a long way towards determining the public mood, although Pardew claims that the negativity he encountered last season merely made him even more determined to turn public opinion around.
“I’ve been here long enough not to have to play politics with the fans,” he said. “I think they know I’m an honest person, and I think they know I work hard to try and achieve success at this club, because I do.
“I wasn’t de-motivated last year. If anything, I was more motivated after the Cardiff game (when he received sustained abuse from his own supporters) because it’s just natural that you want to prove you’re better than people are perceiving. That drives me on, and I’ll never lose that drive.
“But I have to make tough decisions at this club, and I’ll make the ones I think are right to take the club to as close as we can to winning something, or to getting us as close as we can to the Champions League, or even into the Champions League at some stage.
“I need to grow the team and build it as I go. At the back end of last season, I felt the team was nowhere near that. We had to improve it – and we have. Now, I’ve got to make sure that’s replicated in results.”
On the opening weekend of last season, Newcastle crumpled as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
They suffered a disrupted build-up to that game, with Cabaye effectively going on strike in an attempt to force through a move to Arsenal, and were reduced to ten men when Steven Taylor was dismissed at the start of the second half, so after an unusually stable summer, Pardew is confident his side are in much better shape this time around.
“At the time, we were in dispute with our midfield player,” he said. “When we got off the bus, was he going to play or not? The difference now is we’re much more settled.
“The disruption of that unsettled us, and we lost a player (Taylor), which was maybe a consequence of the frustration we were all sharing.
“We have a new-found sense of belief now and players grow when they see new signings. If you see more quality around, you feel more confident.”