By Laurie Fitzgerald
Back in December, one of the strangest managerial decisions in recent times was made when Newcastle owner Mike Ashley sacked Chris Hughton and appointed Alan Pardew as his replacement.
Many people, including myself on this website, questioned the logic of sacking a man that had guided the Magpies back into the Premier League and stabilised them only to replace him with a manager that had just lost his job at League One outfit Southampton (http://shoutsfromthestands.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/the-surreal-mind-of-mike-ashley/)
What made things worse was that it was well-known that Pardew and Ashley were good friends, and Ashley giving his mate a five-year deal infuriated many that felt Hughton had been harshly treated.
Ten months on though, and Pardew has proven myself and his other doubters wrong by creating a young Newcastle team that’s become well-drilled and difficult to beat.
This is despite the fact that the former Reading and Charlton boss has had to overcome a host of obstacles during his time in charge so far at St. James’ Park.
When the appointment was announced, Sky Sports ran a poll that found out almost 95% of fans didn’t want Pardew to be their new manager.
Just a month later, the club agreed to sell star striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool for a club record £35 million on transfer deadline day, leaving Newcastle short in striking options with no time to replace the influential 21 year-old.
With a host of inconsistent results that followed, I did another feature that asked Newcastle supporters whether or not Pardew had won their approval after getting the job in such controversial circumstances. (http://shoutsfromthestands.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/has-pardew-proven-to-be-the-right-man-at-newcastle/)
The jury was still out from the feedback I had gathered from forums, with most wanting to wait until the summer and allow him to put his stamp on the squad to see if he was the right man in charge.
But when the summer came round, eyebrows were firmly raised when a host of big names departed the club, including captain Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique.
It was a big risk taking out the spine of the team and replacing it with youngsters predominantly from France, which included the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan, something that I also voiced concerns about going into the new season.(http://shoutsfromthestands.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/will-newcastles-loss-of-key-trio-prove-crucial/)
Even with the last-ditch attempt to try and persuade Bryan Ruiz to join the club before he eventually signed for Fulham, it seemed that Pardew felt that his options were short going into the new campaign.
But with such negative facts, you’d think that Newcastle were about to make a poor start to their season. It turns out they’ve been anything but.
After seven games, the Toon are still unbeaten and currently sit in the top four going into the international break.
What Pardew has done is that he has integrated a tight-knit group of players and got them believing in their own ability, and it’s shown in their early performances.
Defensively Newcastle have been one of the best teams in the Premier League. The centre-back pairing of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor have been outstanding.
Geordie Taylor and Argentinian international Coloccini have developed a real understanding in a partnership full of strength and aerial dominance.
Their protection in front of the talented young Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul has been the main aspect of their unbeaten start, with just four goals conceded – fewer than any other side in the Premier League.
They’ve also been protected by a well-organised midfield, thanks mainly to the most underrated holding midfielder in the league in Cheik Tiote.
The 25 year-old Ivorian puts in a host of strong tackles, but the majority of these break up opposition play and allows the likes of Cabaye and Jonas Gutierrez to roam forward.
Up front has been the biggest surprise where despite the dearth of options available to them, Pardew has discovered a partnership that functions very well indeed.
Demba Ba and Leon Best have formed a little-and-large partnership that allows Ba to hold up play and bring the pacy Best into the action, and they’ve not been shy of goals either.
They already have seven goals to their name in the league between them, with Ba scoring four goals in his last two outings, providing the Magpies with a real purpose in attack.
Of course there is a long way to go for Newcastle to maintain their impressive beginning, and they still remain big outsiders for a remarkable push for the Champions League (remarkable in the sense that they’ve only been back in the top flight for just over a year.)
But after their best start in 17 years it seems that Newcastle are laying the foundations for a very good season due to a squad growing in confidence and a manager growing in stature with players and supporters alike.
Now excuse me, but I have to get back to eating some of that humble pie - I’ve got quite a bit to get through.
So what do you think? Has Pardew finally proven his doubters wrong? Will Newcastle maintain their impressive start to the season? Leave a comment and let us know your views.