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Onus on Pardew to reprise last term as Newcastle's woes continue

T here tend to be epic dramas at St James' Park, so a round of booing and chants against the manager will not seem remarkable.

Alan Pardew has the backing of the club's board
Alan Pardew has the backing of the club's board

Even so, Alan Pardew felt irked enough to talk of an air of negativity around the stadium on Saturday that was not helping his Newcastle United players. That comment would have sounded hollow to the fans, who found little optimism in the efforts of a team who surrendered a lead to lose 2-1 to Reading, one of the sides climbing from the relegation places towards Newcastle in the Barclays Premier League. If there is a crisis at the club, it is one of faith.

The criticism will sting Pardew because, after some initial scepticism, it has mostly been acclaim ringing in his ears. Fickleness is expected in football, since results dictate the mood of everybody at a club, but Newcastle still seem on the brink. The loss of Demba Ba was inevitable, and the striker was at least moving to an elite club in Chelsea and so is not in direct competition with his former employers. Being gazumped by Queens Park Rangers for the signature of Loic Remy was more hurtful to Newcastle, not least because they had been pursuing the striker for so long.

Few clubs have worked the French market as successfully as the north-east side in recent times, with chief scout Graham Carr utilising his contacts and player appreciation to excellent effect. None the less, when a club has to work within certain financial boundaries, there are always potential setbacks. Newcastle operate with a strict wage ceiling, as well as only signing players within a certain age bracket and who are likely to retain a sell-on value. Recruiting the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse proved shrewd, while the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy earlier this month appears another good signing.

However, Pardew's team lacks creativity while Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux recover full fitness and Ben Arfa remains out injured, while Cisse's poor goalscoring form is exacerbated by the fact that he needs support up front. The sense among seasoned Newcastle watchers is that the club needs to invest to prevent this season declining further, and the relegation suffered previously under Mike Ashley remains fresh in the memory.

The owner is unlikely to alter his business plan, though. When Ashley first bought the club in 2007, he succumbed to the impulsiveness of football, and some of his decision-making was flawed. He has since put the club up for sale twice, only to fail to find a buyer, but in the meantime has imposed a responsible, sustainable strategy. Last season, it enabled Newcastle to finish fifth in the Premier League and, if that can be seen as over-achieving, the slump to 16th this term is also not reflective of the ability within Pardew's squad.

This season has required problem solving and man-management, which have been strengths of Pardew's in the past. Fabricio Coloccini wants to return to Argentina due to personal reasons, but he remains Newcastle's best and most consistent centre-back, as well as the club captain, and is on a long-term deal. Ben Arfa also told a newspaper in France that "I will speak to the Newcastle president and the coach at the end of the season. If there is no ambition at Newcastle maybe I will leave."

There is ambition, but it comes from the perspective of a club that wants to live within its means. Everton, too, cannot afford to spend their way out of trouble, and have suffered the occasional collapse in form during David Moyes' reign. Consistency is difficult to maintain on a budget, but Newcastle are likely to continue to buy affordable players rather than splurge in a panic. Deals are thought to be close with defenders Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, of Montpellier, and Massadio Haidara of Nancy but it is an alternative to Remy, who was to be the significant signing of this window, that will be focusing minds at St James' Park.

Pardew still retains the faith of the Newcastle board, who granted him an eight-year contract last season, and the local media are also generally supportive. There is no sense of an impending breakdown, but the decisions made in the next nine days will shape much more than the end of this campaign. Ashley remains an elusive figure in the north east, although he attended last Saturday's defeat by Reading, and there has been little reaction, if any, to him buying a small stake in Rangers during the Ibrox club's share issue last month. Ashley remains committed to Newcastle, even if there have been times when he has sought to end his time as owner, but the involvement is restricted to running the club in a way that avoids financial collapses.

It is up to Pardew, his scouting staff and the executives to steer the club out of this time of uncertainty.

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