ALAN PARDEW claims Newcastle United are merely voicing what their Premier League rivals dare not say when they admit the cup competitions are not a priority at St James’ Park.
The Magpies kick off their Capital One Cup campaign with a second-round tie at Gillingham this evening, but the club’s hierarchy has already admitted that winning silverware is of limited interest.
At a fans’ forum in May, board members including managing director Lee Charnley and finance director John Irving claimed a cup run inevitably increased the threat of relegation, and cited the financial impact of dropping out of the Premier League as justification for downplaying the significance of both cup competitions.
Understandably, the attitude has been criticised by the vast majority of Newcastle supporters, some of whom will be making the 690-mile round trip to the Priestfield Stadium for tonight’s game.
Pardew, who cited the potential for a cup triumph as one of the key appeals of the Newcastle job when he was appointed three-and-a-half years ago, claims to understand their frustration. But the Magpies manager makes no apology for the official club stance and claims a number of other Premier League sides are adopting a similar approach in private.
“Perhaps we at board level say what other boards don’t say – that the Premier League is the be all and end all because of the TV money,” said Pardew. “You can’t hide from that, and we have not hidden from it.
“We have actually said it – perhaps to our detriment. We have said it, and that (the Premier League) is our priority. But of course we want to win a cup, and of course our fans do. I want to get some cows on that field in Newcastle (by getting the freedom of the city)!”
Newcastle’s recent cup record certainly reflects the board’s indifference to knockout football, with last season’s failure to get past the fourth round of either the League Cup or FA Cup extending a sorry record that stretches back a number of years.
Two seasons ago, Newcastle exited both competitions at the first time of asking, and it is eight years since they last featured in the fifth round of either of the cups.
During that period, the likes of Sunderland, Swansea and even Bradford have appeared at Wembley, a source of considerable frustration to Newcastle fans given that an assault on the Premier League title is clearly out of the question.
January’s FA Cup third-round defeat to Cardiff City was the catalyst for much of the dissent and unhappiness that characterised the second half of last season, so while defeat to League One opposition tonight would not cause too much of a stir in the corridors of power at St James’, it could unleash a powerful wave of negativity that would seriously affect the prevailing atmosphere ahead of Saturday’s home game with Crystal Palace.
If nothing else, a cup exit at the hands of Gillingham would almost certainly cancel out the goodwill engendered by this summer’s signing spree at a stroke.
“One of the most disappointing games for me last year was Cardiff, when we should have won in the FA Cup but lost it in the last eight or nine minutes,” said Pardew. “That was our last cup game, and we need to react to that and get a win.”
Be that as it may, Pardew will inevitably make a number of changes for this evening’s game, with the likes of Rob Elliot, Steven Taylor, Gabriel Obertan and Ayoze Perez all set to start.
Rolando Aarons is also in contention for a starting spot despite having been omitted from the 18-man squad that travelled to Birmingham for Saturday’s goalless draw with Aston Villa.
Aarons caught the eye repeatedly during Newcastle’s pre-season programme and was a second-half substitute in the opening-weekend defeat to Manchester City, and while Pardew has previously counselled against expecting too much of the 18-year-old, who only signed his first professional contract in April, he expects him to play an increasingly influential role this season.
“I think Rolando had a bit of a baptism of fire last week (against Man City),” said the Magpies boss. “I put him right in at the deep end.
“I am going to use him this year because I really like him – we think he has a great, great talent. But that was our first away game (at Aston Villa) and it was a tough call on the bench.
“We had a little feeling about (Paul) Dummett so I needed Massadio on there. We decided to keep him (Aarons) off, but he will be in and around the team for sure all season.”
Gillingham (4-5-1): Bywater; Hoyte, Egan, Legge, Hause; Morris, Hessenthaler, Dack, Dickenson, Kedwell; McGlashan.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Elliot; Anita, Coloccini, S Taylor, Dummett; Colback, Abeid; Obertan, Sissoko, Aarons; Perez.