Newcastle Focus – Testing times on Tyneside

An afternoon which started in a relatively positive manner for Newcastle ended in anything but after they surrendered a half-time lead to suffer a 2-1 defeat to Reading at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Starting his first game in over two months, Yohan Cabaye found the net with an expertly flighted free-kick before substitute Adam Le Fondre struck twice for the Royals to leave Newcastle just two points above the relegation places. Queue the intensification of a type of pressure significantly different from that which Alan Pardew and his players had to contend with last season.

Then, the onus was on churning out positive results to sustain a strong challenge for a European place, which they duly achieved by finishing fifth. Now, however, the current group of players find themselves immersed in a battle to stave off the threat of relegation. If they are to do so, they will certainly have to produce far more accomplished performances between now and the end of the season than the one that they served up on Saturday.

At times, driven by the assuredness of Cabaye’s own display, Newcastle did exert a degree of control over the game. However, this noticeably diminished when the French midfielder began to tire in the second-half, as too many of his teammates failed to perform with the assertiveness and decisiveness required to prevent Reading from playing their way back into the game.

The most damning instance of this was Mike Williamson’s gross misjudgement of the cross leading to the first of Le Fondre’s goals. This served to heighten the nervousness and tension reverberating around St. James’ Park, created by a combination of Newcastle’s stuttering performance and confusion among the Toon Army over the decision of their manager to replace the lively Sylvain Marveaux with James Perch midway through the second-half.

Perch’s introduction can be construed as having been made with a view to protecting the Magpies’ 1-0 lead but shortly thereafter, Reading manager Brain McDermott reshuffled his side into a 4-4-2 formation, which helped them gain the ascendancy and ultimately, the three points, as Newcastle struggled to respond after falling behind.

During this time and indeed throughout the second-half the frustration of the home support with what they were witnessing was evident, no more so than to an unappreciative Pardew – who is expected to welcome 23-year-old French International centre half Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa into his squad early week from Montpellier.

Pardew said: “It was a negative stadium in the second-half and there were a lot of boos when the players were trying to do their best.” In response to Pardew’s claim, a general consensus emerged among those Newcastle supporters who called into BBC Radio 5 Live’s 606 Football Phone-In on Saturday night, feeling that the disillusionment from the stands were directed more at his decisions than the players.

As such, a potential strain has been placed on Pardew’s relationship with the Newcastle faithful. This is far from desirable at any time, especially when he needs all the support available to prevent Newcastle getting dragged even deeper into the relegation mire than they currently are.

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