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Newcastle's derby defeat unearths old demons

Newcastle's problems are more than just skin deep, and that was revealed in Sunday's loss to Sunderland.

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Ed. note: This is a guest post from a friend of the site, Kristan Heneage. Enjoy.

A beaming smile from Adam Johnson. It had become an annual event at St James' Park of late. The red and white of Sunderland have never been this successful on Tyneside, with 7 unanswered goals conceded at home to those by the river Wear.

The Black Cats have danced with relegation and struggled to build momentum, while a side that counts Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester City as scalps this season cannot find a way past Costel Pantilimon.

In the minutes and hours after a derby defeat, no man is spared. Everyone is to blame in some instance. Ayoze Perez should have buried his chances. Moussa Sissoko should have hauled Adam Johnson to the ground. The mistakes are plentiful and presented neatly thanks to hindsight's clarity.

Yet after a fourth straight defeat, the spotlight of blame is now focused on the dugout. Alan Pardew revealed he was happy with his side's approach on Sunday, a bizarre statement if ever there was one.

To say Newcastle simply weren't good enough is far too reductionist and obvious. So where did it go wrong for Newcastle on Sunday?

The problems began in the summer, when the club's transfer strategy was lopsided and left them over-stocked in a handful of areas and woefully short in others.

Allowing Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to leave before signing his replacement meant the team were forced to use Paul Dummett in central defence - a scenario that cost Pardew the reverse fixture last season.

Further up the field, Hatem Ben Arfa wilfully left for Hull City with no replacement. That in turn gave Sammy Ameobi and all but unchallenged spot on the wing, a situation that has highlighted how limited a winger he is.

With Yohan Cabaye gone since January a cultivated, smart central midfielder was a necessity. Someone to pull the strings or as famed Serbian coach Vujadin Boškov once said, a player that can: "see a motorway where others only see a path."

For those who respond by suggesting Siem De Jong, I urge you to read up on his time at Ajax. Somewhat injury prone towards the end of his time there, he was also not a creative fulcrum - more in line with Kevin Nolan than Cabaye.

That in turn meant that come Sunday lunchtime, Newcastle were being out-passed by the likes of Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Larsson. The home side more of the ball, but rarely strung it together with any efficiency as Jack Colback tried to find gaps that did not exist.

With Sunderland forced to place John O'Shea at full-back, it was of great concern that Pardew sought to place Yoann Gouffran on the right hand side. Gouffran is far from a traditional winger and had Ben Arfa, or someone with genuine pace and a right foot been put up against O'Shea, there could have been a chance to exploit the space in behind.

Pardew has often claimed Gouffran was a winger at Bordeaux. This is simply not true. It is why so many fans now hold concerns over his management. His inability to correctly place a player in his most effective position is likely why Gouffran's form has tailed off as the player casts a frustrated figure (although this does not excuse his own poor attitude).

His lack of faith in Remy Cabella is also a concern, as is the decision to purchase the Frenchman. Cabella is clearly a very talented attacking player. However, Newcastle's side is increasingly relying on direct, athletic players, typified by Moussa Sissoko. To purchase a player that relies on smart movement and intricate build-up seems to go against this style.

By the time Cabella was introduced into the game, it was almost over, and in fairness, Newcastle had created some solid chances by that point. Consistently the best avenue of attack seemed to be playing the ball down the side of Sunderland's slow centre-backs and exploiting the pace of Perez and Sissoko.

However the lack of build up in midfield made this almost impossible to achieve. A smart pass is also exactly the kind of skill Cabella has. Another tactical concern, given youngster Adam Armstrong was seen as a better option to the big money summer signing.

Many have credited Pardew for his ‘Geordie core' in recent weeks. Yet, in Armstrong, this feels eerie similar to the trajectory of Adam Campbell. A decent if not spectacular young player, Armstrong's decision to shoot rather than square it to Moussa Sissoko showed a naivety that can be smoothed out with a solid loan move (like the one Mehdi Abeid enjoyed), rather than throwing him into a tense Tyne-Wear derby.

All of these issues then flow into the biggest concern of the Alan Pardew era. Not only in derby matches but big occasions in general, Pardew's eagerness to play up to the magic and intensity - blood and thunder over tactics and ideas.

While many may be loathe to compliment Gustavo Poyet and to a lesser extent Paolo Di Canio, both men have stressed the importance of the game, but done so knowing they have produced a considered strategy to supplement their passion.

By contrast, Pardew prefers to give passionate soundbites and hope the approach used in previous games against Chelsea and Tottenham will work.

The problem with such a theory is two fold. The players are largely more nervous in this game than those previous, as they themselves know the consequence of another defeat at the hands of Sunderland.

Equally, Sunderland are not Chelsea, nor are they Tottenham. They are well aware that a cavalier attitude will see them picked off and likely exposed in key areas. Instead they stay tight and together.

This in turn relates to a running narrative of the Pardew era - the talisman. Whether it be Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Papiss Cissé or Demba Ba, Pardew has consistently built his entire strategy through one or two players, with the others working harder to compensate.

The glaring issue with such a strategy was clear to see on Sunday. Nullify the talisman, in this case Sissoko, and you limit the attacking potential of Newcastle. Contrast that with Sunderland and there is no talisman.

They have standout players certainly, but each man works to a similar level and plays within a team setting so the end goal is the same. This is by far the most concerning aspect of Pardew's reign as he simply cannot build a functioning team in the long term.

Garry Monk, even Ronald Koeman have built far more structured and balanced sides in shorter spaces of time. In Koeman's case, he has done so while integrating a number of players that are new to the Premier League.

It is at this point I would highlight why it may actually benefit Mike Ashley to install a new manager. As sad as it is to admit, Newcastle are a selling club. Their sole aim is to purchase players they believe have not hit their ceiling in terms of value. In Pardew's sides, it is only ever likely that one or two players will stand out as better than those around them.

Yet if we use Southampton as our example, they received offers for almost half a dozen of their starting eleven in the summer. If Ashley dispensed with Pardew and opted for a more balanced, modern manager, the club could conceivably build a side that raises the value across the board instead of exalting one single player to a perceived point of excellence.

This in turn would increase the profit made on the players as a group.

In recent weeks Newcastle fans have been branded ‘fickle', yet had they complained during the winning run, they would likely have been described as impossible to please. Mike Ashley is undoubtedly here for the long haul, as he continues to soak in the significant financial gain from the Premier League TV deal.

Alan Pardew, however, is less guaranteed, and if you must play to the organ grinders tune, let it be one they enjoy.