As Alan Pardew acknowledges, his Newcastle United side's run of nine defeats in their last 11 Premier League games is "awful" but despite relegation worries and the impending departure of leading scorer Demba Ba to Chelsea, there are no calls for the manager's head on Tyneside, no talk of 'crisis'. Although very much at odds with the club's turbulent image, such understanding is perhaps explained by the healthy stock of plausible answers to almost every question asked of Pardew's regime.
A few boos greeted the final whistle when Newcastle were beaten 2-1 by Everton – on Wednesday but generally supporters recognise that Pardew has been undone by a series of injuries to key players including Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye. Allied to a lack of necessary investment last summer and Europa League-induced fatigue, it is a toxic mix. "Our fans are more knowledgeable than they're given credit for," says Pardew. "They've been very patient and we appreciate that. When you look at the teams we're putting out and the team we could put out they're a million miles apart. We're in an unprecedented year in terms of the blows we've taken. I think you start getting questions asked if you get injury after injury in training, but we haven't had that. We've had injuries in games where people are stretched."
In his younger days the current LMA manager of the year could be a bit brash and full of himself, but he really does seem to have changed. These days his ego is well disguised, his words carefully measured and he works assiduously on the training pitch, devoting hours to meticulously detailed coaching and individual chats. He is virtually the only manager to have handled Ben Arfa successfully and the majority of an extremely diverse, multinational and multicultural squad respect and like him.
There have possibly been times recently when the Spanish-speaking captain Fabricio Coloccini has struggled to make himself fully heard in a predominantly French-speaking dressing room dominated by Cabaye and the departing Ba. Overall, though, morale appears surprisingly good. Local boys Shola Ameobi and Steven Taylor are powerful, positive influences, the squad enjoy regular international theme days and Newcastle's Muslim players are comfortable with praying at a training ground far less laddish than in previous eras. "Everyone's working hard for each other and it's just little things that are going wrong," says the goalkeeper, Tim Krul. "Last year everything went for us, this year we're getting smacked in the face. We're in a massive battle now but the manager has shown trust in us; that trust is very important to us and we want to repay him."
Pardew's mantra last season was "rhythmic passing" but this autumn Newcastle hit more long passes than any other Premier League side. It is partly explained by the fact that, since August, Cabaye and Cheik Tioté - now away at the Africa Cup of Nations - have barely played together in a central midfield they once controlled and deliveries from defence have often been poor. Pardew trusts the France right-back, a £5.5m arrival from Lille, will rectify matters. "Debuchy will improve our distribution," he says. "It was a difficult conversation to explain our situation to him. He thought we were going to be top eight but he understands that if we can get our best team out, there's no doubt we've got a great side."
No. It is understood that dismissal would guarantee Newcastle's manager one year's salary but Derek Llambias, the club's managing director, has said he is "entitled to a bad season" and there is an acknowledgement that the squad was not bolstered adequately last summer. "Money's tight here," says Pardew who really needs a new centre half as well as Ba's attacking successor. "But of course Mike [Ashley, the club's owner] has been supportive – and he has to be even more supportive in this window to find the extra money we need to replace Demba." Even so, Pardew will not want to test Ashley's patience by losing forthcoming games against Norwich City, Reading and Aston Villa.