I don’t know what’s the most painful aspect – losing a fifth Tyne-Wear derby in a row or having to watch one of the most abysmal performances by a Newcastle United side in recent memory.
When Alan Pardew left in December to join Crystal Palace – who are now above Newcastle in the table, you will note – I used this column to suggest that fans who called for the manager’s head would come to regret it.
Yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to arch rivals Sunderland, the Wearsiders’ fifth derby win on the bounce, was perhaps the most obvious example of that. No one with any ties to the once-proud Tyneside club can have failed to be anything but absolutely embarrassed.
Caretaker coach John Carver was quick to criticise the performance of his players – and rightly so. There were many on the pitch who just did not seem to care enough, in stark contrast to those in red and white.
However, I believe that the boss played a significant role in the capitulation by not setting the team out right in the first place and also not making changes when they were needed.
Newcastle had absolutely nothing in the middle of the park and you cannot win football matches in the Premier League if you do not dominate – or at least compete – in midfield. If the players aren’t available then the manager is not responsible, but our best central midfielder, Jack Colback, was stuck playing at left-back.
Perhaps the aim was to protect the ex-Sunderland man from being in a position where he would be more likely to get riled up and drawn into making fouls. However, you have to back your players to do the right thing and even if this was the case, why did it not get changed with 30, 20, 10 minutes to go?
The only ‘tactical’ decision was to take off a woeful Gouffran for Emmanuel Riviere, a striker who has struggled throughout his first season in England and who was no more likely to benefit from the lack of service that Ayoze Perez was already experiencing thanks to the absence of a midfield.
In my warning about wanting Pardew gone, I said: “But it remains a fact that you cannot blame a manager exclusively for results if he hasn’t necessarily had the chance to pick the players.” This applies even more to Carver, who has his options severely limited by injuries, suspensions and a number of players being shipped out in January – mainly to Ashley’s other project, Rangers – with none coming in.
Nonetheless, if it was Pardew’s fault before, surely those same fans who wanted him out will feel the same way about Carver. I doubt the criticism will be as vocal, but at the end of the day, whoever is to blame, yesterday’s loss to Sunderland is symbolic of a club whose ambition is extremely limited on the pitch in deference to the balance sheet.