For Newcastle United, the festive period has been one to forget. Pardew’s men emerged from the chaotic Christmas schedule with just one win in five outings, finding themselves both out of the FA Cup and sinking ever deeper into the relegation mire.
Rewind to just 10 days ago, and an aura of despair descended over Newcastle as the club reached its nadir with an ignominious 2-1 loss to Reading at St James’ Park. The fans jeering; the players despondent; Newcastle just two points off the drop zone.
The club was taking hits from all angles. A mounting injury list, the departure of Demba Ba and reports of the seemingly imminent departure of captain and defensive talisman Fabricio Coloccini. And when the one glint of hope was soiled - the hijacked transfer of Loïc Rémy by QPR - Newcastle were stuck firmly in an increasingly imperilled position.
But in the face of adversity, the club has rebounded in impressive fashion. Alan Pardew, along with chief scout Graham Carr and managing director Derek Llambias, has worked assiduously to restore some vitality.
With an outlay of roughly £18 million - reduced to £10 when offset against the amount received from Chelsea for Demba Ba - Newcastle pulled off quite a feat, securing the services of no less than 5 players.
The investment speaks volumes of the Newcastle hierarchy’s confidence in Pardew. Not only have the board freed up the cash to let him build the squad, the type of players brought in feed into a wider model of longevity. The mean age of the players is just 23, and most of them are signed on long, financially sustainable contracts.
“The signings show Mike is committed to the club, because you don’t sign players of that age if you’re not”, Pardew said recently.
“If it was a short-term option, he might have given me the signal to go and buy some older players to make sure we stayed in the division, but his vision is long term”
Whilst much has been made of the Gallic invasion on Tyneside, not much has been said about the players themselves. First you had the £5.5 million signing of Mathieu Debuchy. A French international who caught the eye at last year’s Euros, Debuchy offers dynamism down the flank and robust defensive capabilities.
The singing hardly represented an overwhelming level of activity but was a tasty aperitif to what followed - four players in as many days. A 20-year-old Massadio Haidara arrived from Nancy for £2.5 million with almost 50 starts under his belt - a young, hungry full-back with a bright future.
Alongside him came Yoan Gouffran, a fleet-footed, versatile player capable of playing both out wide or up top. The 26-year-old arrived having scored 22 goals in his last 54 appearances for Bordeaux - a comparable scoring rate to Demba Ba, albeit in a less competitive league. But for the paltry sum of £1.4 million, he looks excellent value.
But it is Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa that are the real coups for the Magpies. Despite signing for quite a substantial £6.7 million fee, Yanga-Mbiwa - the defensive stalwart at the heart of Montpellier’s 2011/2012 title winning season - has been touted as one France’s brightest young talents. Philippe Auclair said as much when speaking to Talksport just last week.
“In the view of most people in France, he is going to be our main central defender for the 10 years to come and probably a future French Captain. He is a great, great acquisition”
But on Tyneside, this Wednesday morning’s back pages were all about one man: Moussa Sissoko. Despite Pardew also offering a starting position to Gouffran and a brief cameo for Yanga Mbiwa at the game’s death, the former Toulouse man stole the show. He provided the muscle in midfield, dictated play excellently and supplied a sublime assist for Cisse to open the scoring. And with meagre price-tag of just £2.2 million, his signing has paid immediate dividends.
"I don't think we would have won that game if we hadn't signed Sissoko”, said Pardew after the game. “That's how important he was."
Whilst the new signings have released a wave of fresh impetus over Tyneside, spurring the team on to a vital win at Villa Park, there’s a host of other reasons to be upbeat about their prospect.
The news of Fabricio Coloccini’s commitment to the club until at least the end of the season is bound to bring a huge boost, as will the long-awaited return of Stephen Taylor at the heart of the defence. Meanwhile, with two goals in the last two games, Yohan Cabaye is flourishing once again after a lengthy spell on the treatment table, whilst Hatem Ben Arfa inches ever closer to a return to the first-team.
Even the departure of Demba Ba could have a significant positive, with Pappiss Cisse now returning to his favoured position at the helm of the attack, providing him a platform to recapture the imperious form he displayed last season.
By all indications, it would appear as if the intersection of all these upswings in fortune could be the making of their season. But football is rarely that simple, nor is it ever that predictable. Despite their newfound impetus, Newcastle are just four points off the relegation zone with two tough fixtures against Chelsea and Tottenham on the horizon. No small margin, least of all when their would-be relegation battlers have started to launch revamps of their own, particularly Reading and QPR.
And even though it may be premature to hail Newcastle’s rebirth after just 10 days, the contrast between them and their opponents on Tuesday night underscores the optimism of Newcastle. Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa are a side capable of neither form nor fortune; a side whose travails are eerily reminiscent of Newcastle’s during their 2008/2009 relegation season.
But whilst Villa now find themselves squarely caught in a whirlpool of almost inevitable decline, Newcastle have a fresh wind in their sails; a wind capable of helping the Magpies to soar once again.