Under Pardew: Could Newcastle do better?
On joining Newcastle in December 2010, Alan Pardew brought Premier League experience but a mixed overall background & his appointment, possibly tinged with a nepotistic element, was met with a degree of scepticism from fans & media alike. His record since has been varied: the relative success of 5th place in 2011-12 was followed by a dalliance with the relegation places the following year. Last season was very much partitioned into two halves, prior to Christmas, perfectly good, post Christmas, horrifically bad and the bi-polar nature of Newcastle's results have been a hallmark throughout.
Alan Pardew is the current nominated Manager of the Month but is he an effective custodian or could they reasonably expect more? In this article I hope to represent some issues i've identified with his tenure & his prior record & show that the blueprint for better results isn't far from the surface. It's possible that a different approach could extract just that bit more & turn Newcastle into a team alongside Everton & Tottenham as regular European contenders, a status they enjoyed in the late 90s & mid-00s.
West Ham & Charlton
It's informative to look at Pardew's early Premiership career to show hallmarks that would resurface later at Newcastle. Specifically, he presided over a season in 2005-06 at West Ham in which they vastly overachieved against their underlying numbers. They finished 9th and their goal and shot rankings were as follows:
As a crude measure, we can see that their shooting performance was utterly dismal, more akin to a relegation threatened side than one in the top half. The reason Pardew's team was able to achieve a high standing was purely down to a very high conversion rate of around 15%; this drove their 6th ranked goals total (c.1.4 goals per game) & masked deficiencies in the performances. The opposition conversion rate came in at around 11% (again c.1.4 goals per game) which is about one percentage point over average, a theme that will repeat as we go on.
The following season was slightly different: the shooting numbers remained almost identically bad but the goals dried up. The conversion rate plummeted to 6%, the goals to 0.6 per game and 'Pardew was criticised after seeing West Ham through their worst run of defeats in over 70 years.' A points average that had dropped from 1.44 PG to 0.82 was a stark reflection of how badly the team's form had suffered.
He was gone a fortnight before Christmas.
Quickly rehired by relegation threatened Charlton, he replicated the awful shots totals from his West Ham tenure & failed to save them from the drop. His points average of 1.15 was a par score for a finish of about 14th or 15th, but from a base of being firmly entrenched in the drop zone, it was too great a task to recover. And until the events of December 2010, that was the last we saw of Alan Pardew, Premier League Manager.
Pardew's first season was contentious & not merely for the circumstances in which he secured the job. The popular Chris Hughton was ousted despite claiming some notable scalps & whilst Pardew was unfortunate to lose Andy Carroll in his first transfer window, he was unable to improve results. We can see this here, in particular the points per game:
2011-12 was Pardew's golden year & secured him an unprecedented 8-year contract. Whilst he received the plaudits for an excellent 5th place finish, it was a strange year in which he presided over the worst shots totals of his tenure both for and against but found the only good save% he's had & his team dominated on conversion rates:
Where 2011-12 was good, what followed in 2012-13 and 2013-14 was often comparatively and relentlessly bad. Immediately following that 5th place finish, the team spent most of the following year far too close to the relegation positions having been hampered by injuries and a European schedule. A 16th place finish was a vivid contrast. Some of the underlying numbers for this year, and the following year, in which the period post Christmas after the sale of Yohan Cabaye was described as “a total collapse”, compare awfully when matched up to the rest of the league.
Stats such as these: (rankings based on 'Enlightened Era' rankings 2009-14, 100 teams)
Similar to the miserable run that predated his sacking at West Ham, the run of form in early 2014 was bad to a degree of historical significance. In their final 20 games, Newcastle failed to score in 13 & lost 15. Pardew was also seen to hurl profanities at Manuel Pelligrini & motioned to headbutt Hull's David Meyler.
It took 8 games before Newcastle recorded their first victory of the 2014-15 season. Having broken that run they embarked on a 5 game winning streak that culminated in their famed 2-1 victory over Chelsea. More recent results have been mixed & include losing a home derby to Sunderland & being annihilated by Arsenal. Alan Pardew's most recent monthly managerial award has been, in the tradition of the award, something of a poisoned chalice. Their underlying statistics have been quite good, especially when compared to former years, but some typical problems remain; their +/- conversion rate remains firmly in the red and the long term trend is undeniable:
This underperformance in conversion stems back over two and a half years & has been a major driver in their underwhelming results in that same period. If we look at this table, simply achieving a league average conversion rate for/against (c.10% to all shots) since the start of 2012-13 could have been worth a swing of 56 goals.
It's not as if Newcastle have had poor strikers in this period. Whilst De Jong was a failure, Ba and Remy were both decent enough for Chelsea to subsequently buy them and Cisse has been a fascinating case of streaky conversion form. Some weeks ago Newcastle beat QPR 1-0 with a goal from Sissoko & that positive result lightly represented a wider truth: a career 8% shooter scored once in a game that Newcastle recorded 1 goal from 14 shots: 7%. Under par.
Could another manager remedy this?
'...we walk towards the stadium entrance slowly. Still immaculately attired & as grey-haired as ever, he looks every bit the urbane retired gentleman. Except of course he's not, he's the manager of this football club & he has been for half a lifetime, the longest unbroken tenure in a top flight job since Arsene Wenger retired back in 2027. The awards have stacked up over time; that 2011-12 Manager of the Year double win, a smattering of Manager of the Month nods & he's been shortlisted for the BBC North East Sports Award two or three times. 'King of the 4 game streak' they call him and he's proud of his record. He's not been relegated in over 35 years & has managed top half finishes on a number of occasions. Cup quarter-finals have been commonplace and the stadium now bears his name. A 60ft portrait adorns the space over the entrance and you're left in no doubt, this is now Pardew's town.
He's candid and peppers the conversation with light humour but you're never in doubt that he's in charge. Did he imagine he'd be a Premier League manager for all these years? 'I was always confident in my ability,' he says, 'so the first 8 year contract made sense & when it was clear we'd always do enough to tick over, it was great that it rolled on in perpetuity. It's cast iron too, so they'll have to carry me out of here! But sure, I'm a football man; always have been, always will be & Mike has been good to me. The portrait was his idea & I thought it a good one. Winning the fans over has been difficult but we've got Stevie Ameobi back from Madrid, if his knees hold up we've got ourselves a player, so that gives us a lift & hopefully they'll stop bringing the banners this year.'
It has been well documented that Newcastle United have become a club that is highly conscious of the bottom line & over time recruitment has focused on less obvious players from smaller markets. It is against this backdrop that Pardew has worked & some aspects of his tenure have been successful. However, in a business where a good coach can extract maybe only a small percentage of improvement from his squad, he has provably come up short. The rolling points average is shown here:
Alan Pardew has survived multiple bad runs & good form has become a minority situation for Newcastle over the last 3 years. Underlying statistics have shown few signs of improvement since the start of 2012-13 and continue to incorporate elements of underperformance. The most probable outcome is that this will be another season of general mediocrity punctuated by occasional lapses into poor form. For Newcastle to become a team that has similar aspirations to Everton or Tottenham or any other team that regularly finds itself challenging for the minor European positions, changes may need to be made. Otherwise, 8 years could seem a very long time.