Newcastle United have been nothing other than sensational this season. After a summer of turmoil in which the departure of key players caused many an ‘expert’ to ring the death knell for the Magpies, Alan Pardew’s team have embraced the siege mentality and set the Premier League alight. This, of course, culminated in their recent 3-0 demolition of the champions Manchester United.
With Tim Krul in goal and a defence boasting a reborn Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle are fallible but sturdy. With Cheick Tioté and Yohan Cabaye in the centre of the park, Newcastle can halt opposing attacks in midfield and counter them almost immediately. And, with Demba Ba up front, Newcastle can score goals with consummate ease.
Their spirit, though, can not last.
All too often we have seen sides with similar ideals perform similarly extraordinary feats, only to fail miserably the following season when the expectations of them have been raised considerably. Typically this happens to newly promoted sides who, after a successful season to lift them from a lower league, will defy all predictions by shooting up the table of their new division without a care in the world. Ironically, this happened to another side lead by Alan Pardew not so long ago.
Pardew steered West Ham to victory in the 2004/2005 Championship Play-Off Final and they then went on to finish an impressive 9th in the Premier League the next season. That and their excruciatingly narrow defeat to then European Champions Liverpool in the FA Cup Final that same season marked a sublime start to life back in the top flight for the Hammers. Praise was heaped on Pardew for the way he had created an excellent side in the wake of key players leaving West Ham and did so with little money to play with. Strangely similar to the situation Pardew now finds himself in now in the North East, isn’t it?
West Ham started the 2006/2007 season poorly, winning only one of their first nine games. They looked a shadow of the side that had captured the imaginations of all who watched the amazing game at the Millennium Stadium earlier in the year. So, when an Icelandic consortium took over the East London side at the end of November 2006, they quickly lost patience with Pardew. He was sacked on 11 December; a 4-0 defeat away to Bolton, which left the Hammers 18th in the Premier League, being his final game in charge of the club.
In hindsight, it is quite plain that the shocking arrival of Argentina internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, and the ultimately disastrous Icelandic takeover of West Ham befell Pardew at Upton Park. Given more time, he may have reversed the fortunes of his team. We should, therefore, be able to assume that he will not suffer a similar fate at the Sports Direct Arena, what with the lack of controversial signings and buyers from broken economies on the horizon in Tyneside.
But Newcastle fans would do well to remember that Pardew had all but lost the West Ham dressing room by the time he was given his marching orders. The inexperienced players he gambled on and turned into stars promptly allowed their new status to gravitate towards their heads and West Ham were no longer united. Of course, the advances of rival suitors only served to heighten the immature self-assurance of those players. Even mere speculation about moves to bigger clubs unsettled some.
And this is something Pardew must prepare for in the summer, especially if the rumour of Demba Ba’s £10m release clause proves to be true. In this age of austerity, even the biggest clubs will be quick to declare an interest in a proven Premier League goalscorer who is going for a relative pittance.
How Newcastle cope without Ba while he is on international duty for Senegal at the African Cup of Nations could give a good indication about how they will fair if/when he does leave the club he has already scored 15 goals for already this season.
But Newcastle fans should probably prepare themselves for the inevitability of other sides sniffing around Cabaye, Tioté, Krul and Coloccini too, and then also the likes of Jonas Gutierrez, Steven Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa. The latter may actually be the first to leave. That’s if his ‘Maradona goal‘ in the FA Cup Third Round tie against Blackburn, and his discontent in the run up to it, are anything to go by.
Even if Pardew does manage, somehow, to keep his best performers going into the 2012/2013 season, improvement on this year will be extremely difficult indeed, especially if Newcastle continue to improve. The weight of expectation lays heavy on the shoulders of inexperienced pros, and the squad at what was (and should still be) St James’ Park is littered with those, much like the 2006/2007 West Ham squad.
There are of course examples of teams that have exceeded expectations one season and then lived up to the new ones the following year, even with players that know little about the demands of Premier League football. But they are few and far between in the top flight – only Stoke City really spring to mind. Perhaps that could be enough to convince Geordies and their football kin that Pardew will be able to ensure Newcastle’s ascendancy back to greatness continues. Second-season Syndrome is a ruthless killer of unsuspecting overachievers, though. Hopefully his dose of it at West Ham has immunised the Magpies manager.

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