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Newcastle United: Past, Present and Pardew

Liverpool vs Newcastle: Confirmed Lineups

Off the Mark: Cardiff and Fulham face off in the dysfunctional derby

Fulham v Cardiff City - Premier League

It’s only the first week of March, but the loser of this weekend’s clash between Cardiff City and Fulham will find it very difficult to prolong their Premier League futures beyond the next two months.

That might seem to be somewhat of an overreaction given that after it there will be nine games remaining and 27 points available for both to try and climb from the lower reaches of the table, but the misery that currently engulfs both clubs makes it difficult to imagine any sort of winning run being put together, let alone a season-saving one.

Their presence together at the foot of the Premier League table – Fulham bottom on 21 points, Cardiff immediately above them on 22 – might have been established for a few weeks now, but it is made all the more interesting because both have arrived there via very different routes.

For Fulham, this is a 13th consecutive season in the top flight, a run that is only bettered by six of the current top seven (the pre-Sheikh Mansour Manchester City were in the Championship as recently as 2003) and Aston Villa.

For a long time they were almost the ghostly figures of the Premier League, drifting around, going unnoticed until you were able to pick them out of a crowd. A little like Kevin Spacey in that Oscars selfie.

But Mohamed Al-Fayed’s decision to end his ownership last summer always meant that something was going to change. Shahid Khan entered and a season of struggled ensued, with manager Martin Jol paying the price when he was sacked in early December.

That was all well and good – and indeed plenty of Fulham supporters welcomed the decision – but what was key now was that the club united behind the new man as he looked to make improvements, exactly as we have seen with the likes of Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace and Gus Poyet at Sunderland. Fulham didn’t do that.

The decision to sack Rene Meulensteen just 75 days after replacing Jol was a crazy one, especially as the Dutchman had just overseen credible displays against Manchester United and Liverpool. Darren Bent earned his side a hard-fought point from the former, and only a last gasp Steven Gerrard penalty denied them one in the latter.

At Cardiff there have been different, but entirely similar acts of shooting themselves in the foot.

It is a shame – although simply a fact of modern football – that it took the Welsh club’s elevation to the Premier League to finally make the national press take notice of the destructive acts of owner Vincent Tan.

Plenty of the club’s fans – although importantly not all of them – could get over the kit changing from blue to red, but the needless decision to sack manager Malky Mackay was a step too far.

Mackay attracted widespread sympathy when he was given the bullet in the week between Christmas and New Year, with Tan using that occasion and plenty since to show the watching world who the club’s real boss is. All well and good in an ego stroking, self-publicity kind of way, but for keeping a football club in the Premier League? Not so much.

And so it has come to this.

Venerable old Fulham head for South Wales on Saturday, when they will be managed by fierce old Felix Magath. Opponents Cardiff, loud and garish this season thanks to their owner, will be overseen by the quiet, reserved and largely inexperienced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Neither look a good fit, and neither will be managing a team shaped in their image – however many Norwegians and ex-Manchester United  players Solskjaer has managed to rustle up by kick-off.

In many ways, this is the most unpredictable match of the Premier League season so far. Cardiff won 2-1 at Craven Cottage in September, but the teamsheets for this one will be virtually unrecognisable from back then. Two different managers will shake hands before the match, too.

Whoever wins will still face a huge task to stay up, but for whoever loses that task could be too great.

One or both of them looks certain to fall in May, but at least they’ll be leaving behind a valuable lesson both for those that remain and those that replace them.

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Ban isn’t enough to tame Pardew

Given his previous – a shoving match with Arsene Wenger, pushing an assistant referee, abusing Manuel Pellegrini – then what use is a touchline ban for Alan Pardew?

After headbutting Hull’s David Meyler the Newcastle boss should be given anger management classes, or at least be made to see a sports psychiatrist such as Dr Steve Peters, who does intermittent work at Liverpool and has just been hired by England for the World Cup.

It is easy to scoff at the mental side of the game when there are those such as Pardew who seek to redefine the word, but controlling your emotions is increasingly important within it, as we saw at the KC Stadium.

Hazard warning for Tottenham

In a shortened Premier League weekend, the big game comes on Saturday night as Chelsea host Tottenham.

The Blues are have clicked into gear as they chase glory on two fronts, and they can see off their London rivals with main man Eden Hazard getting on the scoresheet.

Back Hazard to score at any time and Chelsea to win at 5/2 with BetMcLean.com.

@Mark_Jones86

Update

Off the Mark: Newcastle in a Chokeslam, WWE style

Off the Mark: It’s a crucial month for Alan Pardew and Newcastle

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Now on these pages we’re always going to be more concerned with club football than internationals, but Premier League news has been a little thin on the ground lately.

When Jack Wilshere finally stopped giving us a story a day on his social habits, the top flight tales fell away and were inevitably replaced by England’s quest to reach the World Cup, which ultimately they did, mostly without Wilshere’s help.

One little story did creep through though, and it has the potential to get even bigger over the next few weeks.

At the weekend Newcastle boss Alan Pardew suddenly decided to tell us that Magpies owner Mike Ashley – the man who pays his wages and who gave him that still unfathomable eight-year contract last September – sometimes gets “confused and upset” by the way football works.

You could say the same for the Newcastle defence in that first half at Everton of course, but Pardew was referring to the vagaries of the game behind the scenes, and how that has an effect on a man once frequently seen downing pints of lager and sitting in with the fans.

Those same fans are sick of him though.

A number of them are planning a protest march towards St James’s Park ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Liverpool, with Ashley the target of their ire.

They’ve done similar things before of course, and then, as now, the considerable frame of the owner has remained unmoved, but in the wake of his manager’s fairly unwise words how will Ashley react this time?

Things had just seemed to calm down a little from the summer shambles involving the reappointment of Joe Kinnear, a bad smell for Newcastle fans who simply won’t go away.

The team won at Cardiff before the international break – a win made possible courtesy of two goals from the in-form Loic Remy, their only major summer signing – whilst they recovered some lost pride in the second half at Everton and are through to the next round of the Capital One Cup.

A reminder of the disharmony behind the scenes will come with that march on Saturday though, and Newcastle could do with just focussing on their football ahead of what looks a tricky month.

They ‘welcome’ Liverpool to Tyneside less than six months after the Reds won 6-0 there towards the end of last season, a feat they achieved without the banned Luis Suarez.

That meeting this weekend will be swiftly followed by the Tyne-Wear derby and then games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

The City test is in the cup, but nonetheless Pardew will know that it forms a crucial part of a period which has the capacity to go drastically wrong for both him and his team.

A thinly-veiled, admittedly pretty meek criticism of Ashley probably isn’t the wisest move at this time then, and with the protest and in-form Liverpool now looming so large on the horizon, it doesn’t seem like the best time to get in the owner’s bad books.

No time is, of course, but this one seems especially needless given that the green shoots of recovery for the Magpies were starting to become visible.

Remy is scoring goals, Yohan Cabaye is back in the team following his summer flirtation with Arsenal and Pardew has dropped the simply awful Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

The Cardiff win should see them approaching Liverpool with confidence, determined to wipe away the misery of that 6-0 loss.

Instead, the same old mess which seems to permanently engulf St James’s in a cloud of fog could well be in residence again come Saturday, when Pardew, Ashley, the baffling Kinnear and the long-suffering fans will try to blink through it and simply hope for the best, i.e. not 6-0 again.

***

Rooney tuned up

It’s been just over a month since Wayne Rooney returned to action, and in that short time he’s shown just why Manchester United fought to keep him so much.

On his day the forward can be unstoppable, and with England benefitting from his rejuvenation too then perhaps we could be seeing the renaissance of a man who had appeared to be going through a decline.

Nobody at United will admit that the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson was good for the club, but with that clearly fractious relationship now removed from his life, Rooney appears to have rediscovered a form that many thought had gone for good.

***

Give Gus a proper go

Gus Poyet and Sunderland might just work you know, if it is given time.

Of course, time is the one thing that you’re not guaranteed to get when you’re at the foot of the Premier League table with one point from seven games, but if Poyet can quickly instil his brand of football at the club than that win column should be filled soon.

@Mark_Jones86

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