If you had told Alan Pardew this time last year that his side would be within touching distance of a Champions League spot he probably would’ve told you to turn off Football Manager and go to bed. The reality of the situation couldn’t be closer to what would have been considered a daft prediction to make at the time – as Newcastle United have amassed 56 Premier League points thus far, and are seeking yet another win at home to Bolton Wanderers on Monday.
Newcastle United fans, including myself have run out of superlatives to describe this year’s campaign – we consider it somewhere between amazing & unbelievable.
However, if there is one thing we shouldn’t be amazed at come the end of the season it should be the worthy recipient of the Premier League Manager of the Season award.
Alan Pardew is obviously the number one candidate for a lot of people – shortly followed by Brendan Rogers, and maybe even Paul Lambert/Martin Jol. Of course Manchester United fans will demand that the accolade reside with Sir Alex Ferguson when the Red Devils add another title to their list of achievements at the end of the season, but I don’t think even Alex himself would begrudge Pardew of this one.
In January 2011 Newcastle United sold their prolific goalscorer and local hero in Andy Carroll for £35m to a newly ‘financially flushed’ Liverpool, managed by their own local hero: Kenny Dalglish.
The anger on Tyneside among a lot of fans throughout February at the decision to sell Carroll dominated the newswires.
Who would score the goals to keep Newcastle United afloat? Would NUFC fans ever see any of that £35m reinvested in the club?
By the end of the season, and the start of 2011/12 campaign – all questions had been answered, at least for a little while.
Newcastle United confirmed the signings of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, Davide Santon and others, in the midst of a mass departure in the form of Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan, and Jose Enrique.
Skip forward to November – Newcastle United are winging it. Demba Ba can’t stop scoring and the team are working as a unit, showing a great team spirit in the process. Pardew beginning to prove himself as a great man manager and a dark-horse in the transfer market.
There were a couple of minor bumps on entry to the New Year, but us Magpies wouldn’t go away. A famous 3-0 win over Manchester United in a match the lads completely dominated summed up Newcastle United’s first half of the Premier League season; special.
A home win against QPR, and a scalp away at Steve Kean’s Blackburn saw NUFC in a position bordering on European football.
Then, something special happened.
Newcastle United signed a new number 9 – in the shape of Papiss Demba Cissé.
His debut? One to remember. With 15 minutes left on the clock The Senegalese forward popped up in the box to send a stunning left footed half-volley into Shay Given’s top left hand corner – securing a memorable three points at home to Aston Villa.
A couple of defeats followed in London, one of which was heart-wrenchingly decided in the 94th minute by Thomas Vermaelen. Alan Pardew’s men desperately unlucky not to bring a point back to the North-East.
What happened after that?
Well, we’ve won every game since then, including two great wins away to West Brom & Swansea and a home thrashing of Liverpool – with Papiss Cissé scoring two goals in every one of those games.
Now, with a very limited budget, a stern owner in Mike Ashley and seemingly ‘unknown’ new signings, what Alan Pardew has achieved so far has been nothing short of remarkable. His signings, man management and tactics have worked to a tee this season and he is building a very young & talented side at St.James Park.
With Bolton at home tomorrow, Newcastle United could very well find themselves in the Top 4 come 5PM, with five games remaining in the season. One way or another, Europe looks a real possibility for the Magpies and considering some ‘experts’ had tipped Pardew’s side to struggle and perhaps even face the drop – the very least Alan deserves is an award, if only an indication of the astounding progress he has made with NUFC, in difficult circumstances.