independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Pardew feels strain as cracks begin to show in united front

Newcastle 1 Reading 2

As unexpected as their tumble into relegation trouble has been, Newcastle United have been here before and therein lies the problem for Alan Pardew.

Relegated in 2009 with a squad that was supposedly too good to go down, plagued by a history of thrilling near-misses and spectacular failures, Newcastle supporters are accustomed to disappointment.

The really cruel part is, Newcastle also know how to flirt with success.

They have tasted triumph, but never get to digest it. They have qualified for the Champions League three times in the Premier League era – more than Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.

They have finished second twice and reached two FA Cup finals. Last season, they were fifth and could have grabbed fourth on the last day. Eight months later, Newcastle are fifth from bottom, and have won only two of their last 28 games.

Their top goalscorer Demba Ba has gone to Chelsea; club captain Fabricio Coloccini is unsettled; and arguably their best player this season, Hatem Ben Arfa, has suggested he is considering a move in the summer.

Throw in a clutch of injuries and, after a season in which just about everything that could go right has done, Newcastle are toiling under the strain of the polar opposite.

For the first time on Saturday, as Reading gleefully accepted their first league away win of the season thanks to two goals in six second-half minutes from substitute Adam Le Fondre, cracks began to show in Newcastle's united front.

The hosts dominated the first half and missed a succession of chances to add to Yohan Cabaye's goal from a sumptuous free-kick. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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