26 February ~ Reports of the death of Newcastle United's season have been greatly exaggerated. Widespread worries of a nosedive in form following the puzzling sacking of Chris Hughton and the subsequent appointment of Alan Pardew have not come to fruition. What remains widespread is discontent among supporters after the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool in the closing minutes of January and the failure to replace him adequately. Not many believe Mike Ashley intends to spend the Carroll money in the summer, though whether it would make any difference if they did is open to question.
Tempting inducements offered to renew season tickets include a ten-year price freeze, but the closing date for the deal of the end of February has only served to further raise hackles among the many who believe that something they disapprove of is planned for the summer. Grudging support is given to Ashley's insistence not to pay over the odds for players, but suspicion remains that his plan is nothing more than to cut costs with the aim of making a sale of the club more attractive to prospective buyers.
Pardew himself has quietly impressed supporters. He's said all the right things in press conferences, but more importantly the team has responded to him. If anything results have improved marginally, despite the loss not just of the team’s talisman but also the underrated Shola Ameobi to a fractured cheekbone. His big mistake so far has been to assert that Carroll wouldn't be sold in January. Presumably based on assurances from the owner, it's a stance that any follower of the club's fortunes could have advised was foolish. He's learned quickly. His more recent pronouncements on plans for the summer have been careful to make plain that any guarantees have been provided by Ashley, not by himself.
Today's game against Bolton at St James' provides Newcastle with the opportunity to continue their relatively impressive run of form. Eleven league games since Pardew's appointment have yielded four wins and four draws. Bolton are the only team to administer a spanking to Newcastle this season, however. That 5-1 defeat in November should spur on Newcastle, although Bolton's six successive away league defeats looks like a streak itching to be broken, especially after recent FA Cup wins on the road.
Four winnable games in succession will define the season's remainder for Newcastle. A good run will push them to the edge of challenging for Europa League qualification against all the odds. A bad one will drag them back into the desperate pack. Survival seems likely, though fans view that as being despite the influence of the owner, and only a summer of progress can change that impression. Mark Brophy