At CHN, we have a tradition where our writers gather together (virtually, of course - let's just pretend that we met at the imaginary bar known as Three Left Backs) and digest the season once it's over. This year, the medicine didn't go down so easily. Presenting: The 2013-14 Roundtable Discussion.
Let's start off with a positive, if that's possible. What was the high point of the season for you?
Jim McMeachin: Was there a high point? I mean, even from the part of the season that we weren't abject... I guess I'll point to two instances (see Alan? I'm learning!) that would be contenders. November 10, Tim Krul was everything. He played that match at White Hart Lane at the absolute highest level possible and stole three points for his team. Outside of that match, I suppose a hat tip has to go to finally winning at Old Trafford for the first time since the Battle of Trafalgar (roughly)... although Manchester United's struggles during the David Moyes "era" take some of the luster off of it. But Jim, I hear people saying, the Tottenham Hotspur match is really an individual thing, isn't it? Yes. Yes it is; however, that is the kind of season we had.
Alan Hoffmann: I think the biggest positive for the season was winning at Old Trafford. It was something Newcastle hadn’t done since 1972. Yeah, Manchester United had a down year, but I think at that point this season, anything was possible. Newcastle were 7th on the table, and given that this win kicked off a nice run of form, it wasn’t to hard to conceive that they could push for Europe. Of course then the transfer window happened and we sold off Cabaye and as Paul Harvey says, "you know the rest of the story." But, I think back to that day, and how fun Newcastle Twitter was and seeing the shots of the away support celebrating after the Manchester fans had left, and I can’t remember anything coming close to how special that day was.
Robert Bishop: Off the pitch: The day that Joe Kinnear left the club. There's no doubt in my mind that the singular on-pitch moment has to be Tim Krul's 14 save performance against Spurs, but Jim mentioned that already. So, I'll go with Loic Remy's header from a corner on 23 November against Norwich, which ended a corner goal drought of 785 days.
And what was the low point?
JM: I'm going to cover a bunch of bases with this one. As we have discussed on the site before, Newcastle have struggled against lower-table opposition. This year was no different. My "low point" is rather specific if a little wide reaching: our form against teams occupying 20th place in the league at the time of the match. We were abysmal. I don't care to go and find all the instances of it (I could, you know), but it does cover two derby losses and a late season loss to Fulham that started our wonderful 6 match losing streak.
AH: It’s hard to pick one, but the 3-0 home loss to Sunderland has to be right near the top. I mean, this year, you literally have to wade through the 3-0 or worse defeats to pick from. But, to lose to your rival, at home, for the third time in a row, giving up just Sunderland’s sixth double in the rivalry is pretty bad. I know some people don’t put a lot of stake in rivalry games in terms of they are must wins and manager’s jobs depend on that, but Sunderland were a horrid club. This is a club that spent most of the year not just in the relegation zone, but in last place (by my count, 17 weeks at 20th….half the season!) For that club to come into your ground and walk out 3-0 winners is awful.
RB: The day Yohan Cabaye was sold to PSG for good, but not great money. It was Mike Ashley's message to the manager, players, fans, and anybody paying attention that the season was over and the mission had been accomplished. That the season ended the way it did was no surprise.
What went wrong this season? Try, if you can, to narrow it down to 1 or 2 problems.
JM: Alan Pardew. If you're going to purport that the squad was good enough and of a sufficient level that "we was real good in the first halv ov the season" then it follows that the squad was good enough and of a sufficient level that the second half of the season is down to management. The loss of Loïc Rémy for a stretch in 2014 will be pointed at as evidence that the problem lies elsewhere, but Mike Ashley wasn't picking 4-4-anything formations with three left backs and 4 center mids.
AH: The question here asks me to narrow it down to one or two main issues, so I’ll just go with this: Mike Ashley refuses to spend money on this club. Brendan Rodgers said at the end of the season that the fact that Newcastle has spent no money in the last two transfer windows and still finished 10th is quite the achievement. And yeah, you want to brush that off and say that Rodgers is just being kind, but he’s got a point. No permanent transfers, no ne signings, we sold our best player and we still finished tenth. I’m not going to say that Pardew has great tactics or that the team is fine, but given that Newcastle hasn’t had depth and has had glaring holes for two years, has done nothing to fix them, and still finished in the top half of the league is kind of amazing. If Ashley invested money into the club, gave us depth, this season may have turned out differently.
RB: They quit. Everybody quit. As I mentioned above, Mike Ashley signaled his intent to pack in the season four months from the end with the sale of Cabaye, but nobody at the club should get a pass for following his lead and folding like a card table. The entire organization showed their collective lack of integrity and professionalism in the way they conducted themselves.
What went right? What can Newcastle build on moving forward?
JM: Newcastle United can build on the momentum gained by the Pardew Out campaign and hopefully get him out of our club next season.
AH: It’s hard to say what went right because the season as a whole is clouded by the awful ending. I do think Newcastle has some nice young players that it can build off of. I really like Haidara and Dummett. I think those are two young players that the club can build around. I’d like to see Sammi Ameobi and Adam Armstrong get some more playing time. I’m not sure why Pardew was reluctant to play these guys down the stretch when the club knew it was going to finish somewhere between 8th and 10th . I also like that Coloccini is coming back. That’s great news for the backline.
RB: Lots of individual performances at the right times. It's easy to look back at this season and think, "First half good, second half bad," but recall that there were plenty of things that we were worried about before Cabaye left and Remy was unavailable most of the time. They went entire matches without getting a shot on target. At one point, they had taken something like 65% of their shots from outside of the box. Wonder goals from Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Remy, and a stand-on-head performance from Krul gave the Toon results that they probably didn't earn otherwise. Individuals that can change the course of a match are a must-have in the Premier League, but there's no replacement for solid team play. Sadly, the examples of that in 2013-14 were few and far between.
Who was the player of the season?
JM: Yohan Cabaye. Next question.
AH: I think I has to be Remy. Without his goal scoring prowess at the beginning of the year, this club is probably relegated. In a way, he underscores the problem that Pardew and Newcastle have. Remy was relied upon for pretty much all the goal scoring, and when he was injured or if he had an off-game, there was no one to pick up the slack. If you single-handedly keep a team in the Premier League, I think that gives you the nod.
RB: Cabaye and Remy are in the same tier for me. If Cabaye stayed, he'd be the runaway winner (I'm assuming), but since Remy was around for some of the back end of the season, I'll give him the nod. There really aren't any other legitimate candidates.
Goal of the season?
JM: Brace yourselves for this one - Hatem Ben Arfa v. Fulham (close runner up: Yohan Cabaye FK v. West Ham). Although this could really be seen to be the beginning of the end for HBA this season, this goal was class and clutch. It also taught him his Preferred Move of "roll the ball around at the top corner of the box until you can strike with your left" that Hull City showed everyone how to solve.
AH: I’ll take Cabaye’s winner at Manchester United. It might not have been the prettiest, but that was an outstanding win and well, I miss Cabaye.
RB: The team goal against West Ham (seen at 2:58 in this video) stands out to me, because it was seemingly one of the few that wasn't a moment of individual brilliance. They created that goal. In a normal season, I'll give a nod to Ben Arfa or Cabaye or Sissoko, but not this year.
Game of the season?
JM: Newcastle United 2 - 0 Chelsea. Yoan Gouffran scored that header from a Yohan Cabaye free kick, we managed to break free of the "let a better team run at you" tactic (eventually) and stopped playing "hoof it to Sholer" (eventually) and lo! A result was won! (Also, Gabriel Obertan actually played in this match!)
AH: Since it was my high point, I’m going to go ahead and say the win at Old Trafford. Possibly one of the more complete games Newcastle played all year as well.
RB: It probably says a lot about the season that I'm going to go with a draw, but here we go: Newcastle 2 - 2 Liverpool on 19 October. It wasn't their best performance, but it was the one in which we saw the fight that we want from the team. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa committed a really, really dumb foul in the 40th minute and was shown a deserved straight red, but for once the lads didn't fold. In fact, they went out and grabbed a lead in the second half (only for Daniel Sturridge to salvage a point for the visitors). It was ugly, and their woes were self-inflicted, but at least they had the gumption to claw their way back. I choose to remember this match, because it's all I want from them going forward.
What are Newcastle's biggest on-the-pitch needs? How would you prioritize transfer spending?
JM: Newcastle's biggest needs are as follows (in no particular order): 1. Play-making central midfielder, 2. Striker not named Luuk de Jong or Shola Ameobi, 3. New manager, 4. Defensive coach who can set our defense right. There's talent enough there, but we concede way too many goals. I would prioritize these items thusly: 1. 3. 2. 4.
AH: Well, it sort of depends on who all leaves, but obviously there needs to be some scoring. If we assume Remy is gone, then that leaves Newcastle with just Papiss Cisse, which doesn’t work. Luuk de Jong was the "worst transfer of the year" according to the broadcast, and it’s hard to argue with that. We need some strikers or forwards that can take the pressure off Cisse. Also, can we please get someone who will put in a decent ball on set pieces? I can live without scoring off them, but could we at least look dangerous?
RB: The biggest need positionally is undoubtedly striker, but really what Newcastle need is a Best Player Available, to use the parlance of other sports that have a draft. The best playmaker that can be bought using Mike Ashley's relatively meager budget should be pursued without prejudice and regardless of position on the pitch. Grab him and build around him. The team doesn't have a direction - or even a consistent formation, apparently - so this approach is viable.
What players that haven't been linked to Newcastle would you like to see the team pursue?
JM: Arda Turan? I know I know. Never going to happen, but a fella can dream, right? I guess maybe Fraser Forster for when Tim Krul finally realizes he's better off playing for someone not named Alan Pardew?
AH: Wouldn’t Shola be like a new signing? (Ed. note: Stop avoiding the question.)
RB: I asked this question thinking that I was going to answer it realistically (as in, list some players that are in NUFC's price range and that might actually want to play for Pardew), but that's actually no fun at all. So, why not throw some money (ha!) at Adam Lallana and see if he can't be enticed by the promise of playing time?
Make a bold prediction about the summer so that we can look back and laugh at you in a couple of months.
JM: Newcastle United will make a multi-million £ move for a striker that hasn't scored even two handfuls of goals over the last two competitive seasons he has played.
AH: Newcastle will sign a few more French players and people will bitch and moan about it on Twitter. That is a BOLD prediction if I’ve ever made one.
RB: Alan Pardew's first incoming transfer this season will be a loan; the fans will lose their collective mind. In the end, however, he'll buy at least four players. None of them will be Remy Cabella. Sylvain Marveaux will not leave.
The blame for how the second half of the season went can be placed at the feet of a number of people: Mike Ashley, Joe Kinnear, Alan Pardew, the players (or maybe a certain player or group of them, if you like). If you had to choose just one person to fault, who would it be?
JM: Each and every one of these carries a certain degree of culpability. I've written recently about the club's need for Mike Ashley to invest and why he's not likely to do so. Joe Kinnear was a disaster, just as we all knew he would be. The players underachieved mightily. At the end of the day, as I mentioned earlier, this steaming bag of crap is placed directly at the feet of Alan Pardew. Freezing creative players out and then whining about a lack of creative players. Playing players who are international class players at their normal positions out of position (remember when we signed that promising young right winger Moussa Sissoko?). Most of all, the inability to achieve even the slightest degree of motivation within the locker room put us where we were. This doesn't even mention HeadbuttGate. Pardew should be gone already and will drag us down to another season of underachieving relative to actual talent level in the squad.
AH: The press, obviously. That Lee Ryder, he just ruins everything. No, I think it pretty much rests with Mike Ashley. I’ve made the case before that unless Ashley invests money into the club, it doesn’t matter who the manager is. Not in the long term anyway. I honestly feel that until Ashley invests money or sells, Newcastle is a club that is going to bounce between mid and low table.
RB: It's all of them, but more than any, it's Mike Ashley. Also: Science.