Plaudits for Pards
Who is your Premier League manager of the season? Jeff Stelling nominates an honorary Geordie...
Last Updated: 03/05/12 1:01pm
Who is your Premier League manager of the season?
Roberto Mancini if Man City win the league? Brendan Rodgers for Swansea's style and substance? Paul Lambert for surpassing expectations at Norwich?
Each of those have a claim (and Sir Alex Ferguson is never far away in these things) but realistically there is a clear winner in my view - honorary Geordie Alan Pardew.
Regardless of whether Newcastle finish in the top four or not, what he has achieved on Tyneside this season is staggering.
Wednesday night's win over Chelsea symbolised everything about the Newcastle side he's developed. They were tremendously well organised, showed fantastic battling qualities and team spirit, and demonstrated wonderful flair going forward.
I don't mind saying that at the start of the season I thought Newcastle would end up getting relegated.
I remember that when Pardew first went to Newcastle (and by the way I thought Chris Hughton was treated incredibly unfairly) a lot of the fans' websites were incredibly negative about his appointment; many saw him as a nodding dog for the unpopular owners.
But he's turned out to be anything but and the tone on those same websites has changed. I read one tongue-in-cheek comment this week which said 'I dinna know who this man thinks he is. He's come in here, improved our team, improved our style of play, improved our league position...'
They've certainly claimed some decent scalps long the way - beating Man Utd 3-0, Liverpool 2-0, Chelsea 2-0.
In footballing terms Pardew's results speak for themselves. Everywhere he's been, his percentage win-rate stands out: Southampton (53), Reading (48), Newcastle (43), West Ham (41). Only his time at Charlton (31) could be perceived as relatively disappointing.
Pardew is meticulous in everything he does but in the week that Roy Hodgson was appointed England boss, I couldn't help reflecting that he isn't the style of person who would necessarily go down well at the FA.
He is quite outspoken at times and I don't feel he is one who would necessarily toe the line, when it is necessary to do so, and there is a touch of arrogance in his manner that helps set him apart from some of his peers and gets the best out of players.
Take Fabricio Coloccini, for example, who appears a player transformed. Pardew has got him playing to his strengths and that's mirrored throughout the side; there are no square pegs in round holes. People know what their job is; they know what they are meant to be doing and work tremendously hard for their boss.
Then there are players who have come into the side like James Perch, who many thought of as extremely ordinary, who has had such an incredible impact that suddenly the fans are calling him 'Perchinio'!
Up front Newcastle have been a revelation. In the first half of the season Demba Ba caught the eye, now it's all about Papiss Cisse - even though I actually think Ba is still playing pretty well.
Both of Cisse's strikes against Chelsea were wonder goals, for me. The second one is the more spectacular but the first was absolutely breath-taking. He's performed at that level since he arrived at the club following another great piece of talent spotting. Not bad for £9m! He looks as though he's worth twice, three times that amount.
Cheik Ismael Tiote has been incredible too, while Hatem Ben Arfa - the 'enfant terrible' of French football - looks like a player rehabilitated. He hasn't put a foot wrong for Newcastle and has become an integral part of the side.
Every time Newcastle lose and lose badly - the defeats to Fulham, Tottenham and Wigan spring to mind - there has been a temptation to say 'that's it, the bubble has finally burst' but it never has.
That fantastic achievement is down to the dedication and inspiration of the management and the coaching staff. Generally speaking - aside from notable absentees like Steven Taylor - they've been fairly fortunate with injuries which has meant that Pardew has been able to play a similar team for much of the season.
Perhaps Pardew's biggest achievement is that nobody seems to be talking about Mike Ashley anymore! I imagine the owner is absolutely delighted because Pardew has taken all of the pressure of him.
Of course, Newcastle can still have a massive impact on the destiny of the Premier League title.
If Manchester City win at Newcastle on Sunday then they will deserve to be champions, because as United found out, it's a hell of a tough place to go and get a result.
With 50,000-odd Geordies there it is going to be one fantastic afternoon and, to be honest, I wouldn't want to predict which way it will go!
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