Newcastle United are flying high at the moment, sitting in eighth place and nursing a five-match win streak in all competitions following a dreadful start that had them in the relegation zone after eight matches. So...now's the time to talk about Alan Pardew, right? He's receiving plenty of much-deserved praise, and the Save Pardew crowd are gloating in their apparent victory. I'm happy for the team and for the man, but I'm still not convinced he's the right one for the job.
Newcastle achieved their sixth win of the 2014 calendar year on 26 August when they defeated League Two Gillingham in the League Cup. Their Premier League win total from January through September was just five, and then they went on this five-match winning streak. It's an incredible turnaround, and in truth, the streak would be quite impressive even without the specter of how terrible they've been looming in the background. In any given season, wins against the league champs, runner-ups, and sixth-place finishers in the span of seven days are cause for celebration. Sure, Manchester City was in a cup match, and both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are in a bit of a tailspin, but you don't look down your nose at those results. Not now, not ever.
Given the recent history, I'm not inclined to overlook the other two victories either. Leicester City is newly promoted and a serious relegation candidate. Last season, Newcastle lost to Hull City at home, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, and drew with Norwich City. All of those teams finished in the bottom five. This team has a history of inconsistent play, so to actually take care of business is impressive in its own right. It's also what made this most recent result against West Brom so surprising. The fixture had "LET-OFF" written all over it.
Certainly Alan Pardew deserves a lion's share of the credit for this most recent run. If we're going to take him to task for how poor Newcastle have been over the last ten or so months, it's only fair that we give him his due when they put a string of positive results together. The players clearly have confidence, and for the most part, they're being put in positions to succeed, which in my mind is the primary task of the manager.
So, here's what I'm not doing in this space: (1) I'm not complaining about wins. (2) I'm not disputing that Pardew has had a hand in this turnaround. (3) I'm not writing this article to be "edgy." (Twitter, I hate you sometimes.)
There are two sides to every story, however, so here are some more things I'm not doing: (1) I'm not falling for the fallacy that Process = Results. (2) I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses just because the team is winning. (3) I'm not forgetting the context in which this winning streak has occurred.
If you've spent any amount of time on the internet, you've probably seen this image, or some variation thereof:
The idea, of course, is that it's completely possible to accidentally win a match, just as it's possible to lose despite being the better team on the pitch. This is why Alan Pardew is always in spin control after a loss or disappointing draw. He believes, and wants the fans to believe, that the process is good, and that if the team can continue to play well and trust the process, more often than not they will achieve the desired results.
We as fans do the same thing. Phrases like "deserved to win" and "scoreline flattered them" are recognition that the result doesn't always line up with how the teams played, and certainly doesn't line up with how they were set up to play.
This is why I'll reject out of hand any argument that cites as its own evidence that the team has won or lost x amount of games. That Newcastle only scored 16 points after Boxing Day last season is shocking and probably points to a run of bad play. For starters, it's a (relatively) huge sample size. More importantly, they played like garbage, and anybody who watched them play would say that 16 points is about right for the level of performance.
So, too, would it be inappropriate to point to a five-match winning streak or a fifth-place finish three seasons ago as evidence of Pardew's prowess without discussing the manner in which these results were achieved. For the most part, I'm happy with how they approached these matches. I love that Mehdi Abeid was given a chance, I'm grateful that Paul Dummett seems to have found his calling in the middle of the defense, and I'm impressed and over the moon that they took the game to City rather than sitting back like they always do.
However, problems persist that will rear their ugly head sooner or later. Bombing the ball at a lonely, tiny Ayoze Perez will sometimes yield a world-class play, assuming Daryl Janmaat can also get involved. Counting on that is a bit fool-hardy. More than that, there's the issue of Pardew putting his job security ahead of the health of his players. We're all glad that Papiss Cissé rescued a victory from the jaws of defeat against Hull City earlier this season, but he shouldn't have played, and now he's unavailable. Any fan invested in the long-term success of his club should not be okay with a manager that regularly plays players against medical advice. Now Rolando Aarons is out for the same reason. (First link via Louise Taylor of The Guardian, second link a video on NUFCTV's Youtube channel featuring Pardew's interview following the cup win against Manchester City)
This winning streak isn't going to last forever, and that's true no matter who is in charge. The question in my mind is about how we feel about the team moving forward. It's true that they're playing with confidence, but we could have said the same thing on Boxing Day last season. This December features the following stretch of opponents: Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur (League Cup), Sunderland, Manchester United, Everton. We didn't give this team much of a chance heading into the Spurs - City - Liverpool stretch, and they surprised us. It's possible that they'll shock us again, but I would prefer to head into that stretch with the team and manager that give us the best chance for success.
I'm grateful to Alan Pardew for navigating tough waters and inspiring this team to its recent heights, but I'm simply not convinced he can do it again. Give me somebody that doesn't leave his not-really-a-guy-that-holds-up-play striker on an island, doesn't run his players into the ground in the name of short-term success, and doesn't have a recent history of letting his team quit because they're assured tenth place and a bonus check.