Cardiff's 'character' puts Pardew in firing line
Newcastle 1 Cardiff City 2
FOR Cardiff City there was joy at the dawn of a new era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for Newcastle United only misery as their trophy hopes were extinguished for yet another year.
Cardiff can now dream of emulating south Wales rivals Swansea City by winning a major English cup competition with an exciting young foreign manager at the helm, while Newcastle wallow in regret and recriminations.
Alan Pardew must ensure his fourth early FA Cup exit in as many years does not turn him into another vulnerable Premier League manager.
The Newcastle manager gave the last of his post-match press conferences on Saturday evening slumped against a wall, drained of his usual self-belief. For the first time this season, he looked haggard as if the pressure of managing English football's biggest under-achievers for just over three years had finally taken its toll.
Pardew rested senior players because of injury and fatigue and lost a game he was expected to win. Not the biggest crime, but one that infuriates Newcastle supporters nonetheless.
It was Newcastle's third successive defeat and Pardew needs to regain his composure quickly or he will be under pressure faster than you can say 'director of football Joe Kinnear'.
The contrast with Solskjaer was vivid. The Norwegian exuded optimism. His smile was wide, his aura fresh as he flitted between answering questions in Norwegian and perfect English.
However, his image will not stay pristine for long. Cardiff are still in a stressful fight for Premier League survival, although Solskjaer could not have asked for much more on this occasion.
This was almost the perfect start for the former Manchester United supersub, who made two super substitutions in his first game as Cardiff manager to win a game in which Newcastle had appeared to be cruising to victory.
Newcastle, who made seven changes to the side beaten at West Brom on New Year's Day, shaded a tepid first half despite Cardiff defender Mark Hudson having a goal chalked off for a foul, and were unfortunate not to take the lead when Hatem Ben Arfa rattled the post with a left-foot drive.
They stepped up a gear after the break and did get their noses in front with 61 minutes gone when Papiss Cisse claimed his third goal of the season from close range after Moussa Sissoko had been played in over the top by Yoan Gouffran.
However, with the game there for the taking, the Magpies fatally relaxed as they underestimated Cardiff's collective desire to impress a new manager.
Having emerged so often from the bench to score crucial goals during his golden years at United, most notably the winner in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 1999, it was only to be expected that Solskjaer's substitutions turned the game in Cardiff's favour.
First Craig Noone stepped off the bench, immediately picked up the ball and ran at a retreating Newcastle defence before thumping a shot past reserve goalkeeper Rob Elliot.
Then Fraizer Campbell, booed on to the turf by Newcastle fans who remember his time at Sunderland, scored with a close-range header at the far post from a Peter Whittingham corner.
"I have loads of answers today within the group," said Solskjaer. "It was a great, great chance to see them and to learn. The foundations are there, the foundations are very, very solid.
"Their confidence must have been bruised by some of the bad results, to lose two goals towards the end against Arsenal, but you could see the character the players have. Going 1-0 behind and turning it around. That's great, that's what football is about. I've missed the English game."
Solskjaer admitted Cardiff supporters have also had a "bruising experience" because of the manner in which former manager Malky Mackay was dismissed, but insisted the only hesitation he had in working for owner Vincent Tan was the upheaval it would cause his children moving from a settled home in Norway.
Defeat, though, left Newcastle with much to ponder. An early cup exit should not be allowed to ruin their season, but it does a little.
Of all England's leading clubs, Newcastle's trophy drought is the longest. Not since the FA Cup success of 1955, the club's third victory at Wembley in five years, has a Newcastle manager won a domestic cup competition.
That is not Pardew's fault, but he shoulders the blame for other people's failings because he is currently in charge.
Newcastle have had a good season. They are eighth in the Premier League and aiming to qualify for Europe again after last season's brush with relegation. Yet, Pardew is damaged by his FA Cup record among fans who are sick of being told the financial rewards of finishing in the league's top 10 outweigh the benefits of winning silverware.
Pardew has now overseen four FA Cup campaigns at Newcastle and been dumped out in the third round three times. His squad players let him down in this match, even though Ben Arfa hit the woodwork twice.
"We played very bad," said Gouffran. "We had no fighting spirit and deserved to lose. The manager was very angry. It was unacceptable."
Asked if he understood the disappointment of fans who greeted the final whistle with boos, centre-back Steven Taylor said: "Yes, it's a killer blow. We are very disappointed, but we didn't deserve to win. Maybe for 20 minutes in the first half, we played well and we had a good little stint for possibly 10 in the second half but they just wanted it that bit more." (©Daily Telegraph, London)