Newcastle look to the future as safety beckons

25 April 2011 09:51
TWELVE months ago this weekend, Chris Hughton was beginning to turn his attention towards a summer rebuilding project with Newcastle United's place in the Premier League secure. A fortnight or so later, however, and his plans were ripped asunder when Mike Ashley made his now infamous statement about no new capital expenditure.

One year on, and Alan Pardew finds himself in a very similar position to his predecessor. With the Magpies' Premier League status all but assured Saturday's 1-1 draw at Blackpool has left them seven points clear of the drop zone with just four games remaining thoughts are already turning towards the summer. The difference this time around, though, is that there will be no unexpected intervention to stop the Newcastle manager in his tracks.

Budgetary meetings have already taken place, work is well underway on the installation of an undersoil heating system at the training ground, and transfer targets have been identified. Indeed, in the case of Lorient forward Kevin Gameiro and Toulouse full-back Cheikh M'Bengue, initial inquiries have already been made.

There is a clarity of purpose that has not always been apparent on the banks of the Tyne, and for all the justified scepticism about just how much of Andy Carroll's transfer fee will be made available for reinvestment, this promises to be a less chaotic summer than most.

I think that's us past the post now, and that obviously makes it a little bit easier in terms of looking towards the future and hardening up some of the plans, said Pardew. To be fair though, that process has been ongoing for a little while now anyway.

We've already covered a lot of the bases, but now we can step things up in certain areas. We've already started work on the training ground, and we have some undersoil heating going in that will make a huge difference to us. We might actually be able to train in December and January which will be useful.

We're also actively pursuing players already because we don't want to be left behind in the summer. I've had a meeting about budgets and I think we all know where we stand. I'm obviously going to keep the details of those discussions private, but I'm pleased with the talks that have taken place.

Saturday's game underlined the need for summer strengthening, with Newcastle somewhat fortunate to claim a point against a Blackpool side who only stand outside the relegation zone on goal difference following a run of one win in 14 matches.

There were excuses for the Magpies' lethargic display, most notably the mental handicap of knowing that survival is already all but guaranteed and the physical effects of Tuesday's herculean display against league leaders Manchester United, but the options available to Pardew in terms of shuffling his pack are limited.

Nile Ranger Still incredibly raw at Premier League level. Stephen Ireland Still feeling his way back to fitness. Shefki Kuqi Do we really need to go there

The lack of depth in the Newcastle squad remains a major concern, and it is hard to imagine how the club would have handled the kind of injury crisis that has engulfed their neighbours, Sunderland, recently.

Options are especially limited in attack, hardly a surprise given the January departure of Carroll, and while Peter Lovenkrands deserved his 17th-minute goal at the weekend for the whole-hearted commitment of his performance, Shola Ameobi suffered one of those infuriating days when merely staying on his feet looked to be a taxing proposition.

Even if new players come in, I know Peter and Shola will still be there pushing for a place in the team, said Pardew. They've both been absolutely crucial to us since January.

They have been, but it is hard to think of too many other Premier League sides with such a limited attacking pool as Newcastle. And on a day like Saturday, when Kevin Nolan is struggling with a slight groin problem and things aren't really clicking for Joey Barton, the lack of an obvious attacking leader is an issue.

Blackpool's attacking talisman is DJ Campbell, and the striker, who first encountered the Magpies when he played for non-league Yeading in an FA Cup tie, levelled the scoring shortly before the break with a back-heel flick that clearly crossed the line before Jose Enrique hacked the ball clear.

The Spaniard eventually produced an effective goalline clearance off Alex Baptiste, but his positioning for Campbell's goal was wretched. Not quite as bad as Kieron Dyer's desultory effort on the post against Barcelona, but not far off.

Pardew was aggrieved at the decision to award Blackpool's equaliser, but in truth, Newcastle enjoyed the rub of the green with a Charlie Adam shot that struck the base of a post and a couple of crucial refereeing decisions that went their way.

The impressive Tim Krul undoubtedly got the ball as he prevented Campbell from rounding him before the break, but he also took a bit of the striker and other referees might have given a penalty. Similarly, FA Cup final official Martin Atkinson was also fairly lenient when he deemed Danny Simpson's tumble onto the ball as accidental rather than preordained.

Source: Northern_Echo

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