Think Alan Pardew is a man in imminent danger of losing his job? Think again. He may boast a recent record deserving of being shown the door, but how many managers supposedly in such grave danger of the sack would dare to aim a cheeky dig at the man with the ultimate power to wield the axe? And, what’s more, to do so to his face.
Mike Ashley was an unexpected visitor to the home dressing room to pass on his congratulations in the wake of a first league win of the season that lifted Newcastle, who remain third bottom, to within a point of safety. Gabriel Obertan’s goal sealed a far from convincing victory, though given their predicament, a precious three points nevertheless.
It ensured Pardew’s 700th game in management wasn’t accompanied by the more unwanted statistic of the club’s worst start to a Premier League season, one that would have been sealed by a failure to beat a hard-working though ultimately limited Leicester side who struck the woodwork through Marc Albrighton, but otherwise rarely threatened.
“It was a surprise to see Mike in the dressing room afterwards,” Pardew confessed, almost as much a surprise as the identity of Newcastle’s match-winner 20 minutes from time, it being the recently recalled Obertan’s first goal for almost two years.
Pardew added: “We didn’t expect to see Mike, he spent 10 minutes congratulating everyone. If anyone has ever doubted his commitment you saw it there. He was as happy as any fan at the win.”
And what about the mickey taking? The billionaire-baiting banter? Pardew clearly feels sufficiently secure in his working environment to playfully chastise his all-powerful employer, an imposing character seemingly capable of striking fear into anyone who sees fit to cross him, who admitted to supporters ‘that was a relief’ as he made his way down to the players’ inner sanctum.
“I teased Mike about the cheap telly, and he took that in good spirits,” Pardew added. The ‘cheap telly’ the manager refers to is the newly installed LED big screen at St James’ Park, whose high-profile malfunction and ensuing safety fears delayed kick-off by an hour and threatened one of the Premier League’s more bizarre postponements until emergency engineers saved the day.
Pardew added: “We all had a bit of a laugh about it. That’s the first time since I’ve been here that Mike’s been down to the dressing room straight after a game. It shows what that result meant to him.”
To their credit, Leicester refused to use the farcical delay, as side-panels were hastily re-attached to the screen, as an excuse for the latest in an unwanted run of results that leaves them with a single victory in this part of the north-east for almost 30 years.
A glaring first-half miss from Matty James and a fine save to deny the same player late on by Tim Krul were more culpable for the defeat than any unwanted consequences of a malfunctioning 60 square-metre screen.
“We’re leaving here disappointed not to win, and that’s the sign of the progress we’ve made,” Wes Morgan, the Leicester captain, reflected. “It’s tough to take.”
Nigel Pearson’s side have shown enough in the first two months on their return to the Premier League that they can remain competitive, and Morgan added: “We’ve set a decent standard and we can’t let that slip.”
NEWCASTLE (4-2-3-1): Krul 7; Janmaat 6, S Taylor 6, Coloccini 6, Dummett 5 (Haidara 72, 6); Anita 4 (Perez 59, 6), Colback 7; Obertan 8 (Cabella 90, 5), Sissoko 7, Gouffran 5; Cisse 6.
LEICESTER (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel 6; De Laet 6, Morgan 6, Moore 6, Konchesky 5; Cambiasso 6 (Knockaert 79, 6); Albrighton 6 (Vardy 56, 6), James 6, Drinkwater 6, Schlupp 5 (Nugent 56, 5); Ulloa 6.
Referee: Martin Atkinson 6.