Pardew demands improvement
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will head into the new year ruing the month which spoiled 2012 for him.
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Much of the last 12 months has proved a thrilling adventure for the 51-year-old, who guided the club to a top-five Premier League finish at the end of last season and back into European football for the first time in five years.
Despite the frustrations of a difficult summer transfer window and an indifferent start to the new campaign, Pardew, who takes the Magpies to Arsenal on Saturday, was relatively happy with his lot until November came around.
In the space of 17 days, the Magpies lost to West Ham and Swansea at home and Southampton and Stoke on the road, and they reached the season's halfway point on Boxing Day with an agonising 4-3 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester United, meaning they have lost seven of their last nine league games.
Asked if he would be glad to see the back of the first half of the season, Pardew, who found himself the target of an astonishing rant from United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "Yes, I will be.
"You take November out of the calendar year and you have to say what a bloody great year we had.
"But unfortunately November soured it and it's put us in a tricky position for this first half of the season.
"If we had picked up six points and been sitting on 26 with fourth place at 33, we would have been all right.
"We are really six points short of actually doing very well with the squad we have had.
"But we mustn't take our eye off it and think it's been okay or it's acceptable. It isn't and we have got to do better."
Memories of last season's free-scoring surge up the table have become increasingly distant, although there have been mitigating factors.
Suspensions and a seemingly never-ending injury list which will rob Pardew of nine senior players for the game at the Emirates Stadium have exposed the recruitment gamble they took during the summer when only midfielder Vurnon Anita, who will miss out against the Gunners with a badly bruised ankle, was added to the main pool.
Newcastle have only three specialist central defenders and, with Steven Taylor injured and Mike Williamson serving a one-match ban, utility man James Perch seems likely to be pressed into service alongside skipper Fabricio Coloccini.
Cheick Tiote's return from suspension is a boost, but with Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez having been joined on the sidelines by Anita, teenager Gael Bigirimana too could have a role to play.
The selection headache, coupled with the ongoing speculation over Demba Ba's future and a brewing row with the Nigeria Football Association over Shola Ameobi's participation or otherwise at the African Nations Cup, has left Pardew fighting fires on several different fronts, although he is taking a philosophical view.
He said: "We haven't got the riches of some of the bigger clubs.
"I looked at Everton last year and after 18 games, they had 20 points, so they had a similar first half to the one we have had - and in similar circumstances, I might add, with injuries and the like.
"What we must do is replicate their second half of last season because it's fed into this year, where they find themselves in the Champions League places.
"I know, looking at my best team, I am not far away, but underneath that we need to strengthen. I don't think there's any doubt about that."
The performance at Old Trafford at least gave cause for optimism, and Pardew was happy to see the disappointment his players felt as they licked their wounds.
He said: "Our morale has always been good, but I want it to hurt, defeat should be hurtful for Newcastle United.
"You can't accept defeat, even at Old Trafford, and especially in the manner it was. You can't be going around smiling and all being happy with that.
"We need to be recharged. We have got to focus on Arsenal."