Newcastle United Opposition Q&A – “Saturday afternoon at St James’ Park is the highlight of the week”

This week I spoke with North-East based sports writer and Newcastle fanKristan Heneage (@Kheneage) to get his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s visit to St James Park…

Q. The campaign to sack Alan Pardew appears to be gathering pace, and yet Newcastle United lie eighth in the Premier League table ahead of this weekend’s game against QPR. Which camp are you in and why?

A. I’ve essentially set up my own camp in the middle. I say that because, I agree with the fans, Alan Pardew is not the man to take Newcastle United forward. Unfortunately I feel that’s where the first point of fracture occurs with the owner and the fanbase. Mike Ashley is not looking to take the club forward, he’s content to sit middle of the table and collect the abundance of TV money, all the while promoting his own successful business free of charge.

To him there is no incentive to spend excessively and challenge the established elite. It kills me to say that about my football club, because I was raised on failed title bids and dabbles with the Champions League. I was spoilt, not in terms of achievement, but ambition and I fear that word is no longer echoed around the hallways of St James’ Park.

The reason I saw I’m in the middle however, is because I don’t think the protests work. They never have and they never will in their current guise because no sooner have they held their signs and banners up, they sit back down and get on with the match. What I mean is, the club have already taken your money and so they’ve achieved their goal.

Success in that avenue is achieved only when merchandise stops being bought and games are left empty. That’s highly unlikely however, because as Kevin Keegan rightly pointed out, the Saturday afternoon at St James’ Park is the highlight of the week.

So while I agree with the message, I don’t necessarily concur with its execution.

Q. What do you make of Mike Ashley’s tenure as Newcastle chairman? How has Newcastle progressed on and off the field under his tenure?

A. Off the field, I’d say well. The man is a ruthless businessman. He’s stripped all excess cost from the club’s operations right down to installing energy saving lightbulbs that shut off when there’s no movement. I know because I’ve been in the midst of a match report and been shrouded in darkness.

That’s what you have to remember with Mike Ashley, it’s business. Plug sockets or players, it’s all the same. It has benefits, like robbing Lille for Yohan Cabaye at just ¬£4.3million. However, it also means that they won’t budge on pre-determined budgets, meaning the club has missed out on players that would really have aided the push up the league. No sooner have we got our players in established roles then one is sold off. Andy Carroll, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, even Mathieu Debuchy was looking steady when Arsenal came calling.

It means we never have continuity and if we had a chairman like Huw Jenkins or say Tony Fernandes, I’d argue we’d be blessed with a nice little team. Instead he doesn’t fight to keep players, he just fights for the top dollar.

Your owner has said more on Twitter this week than ours has in the entire time he’s owned us. There’s a Youtube video of him giving his support for Habib Beye, but other than that and a few seconds on the Apprentice, he’s never there.

Q. What do you think of Pardew’s transfer business in recent times? How did you feel about missing out on (then) QPR striker Loic Remy?

A. It’s a bit of a misnomer to call it his business. He has no more say than you or I. Reflecting on the business, it’s largely been good. Missing out on Loic Remy was a real pain, but then he just felt like Demba Ba, we were a means to an end for him. In that sense it’s far nicer to have someone like Ayoze Perez who just seems to be enjoying every minute, mixing with the fans, watching a local non-league team during his days off. Also Emmanuel Riviere needs a goal really really badly in the league.

There’s still a lot to be seen from the two big summer signings, Siem De Jong and Remy Cabella. Neither has quite performed yet but we’ll have to wait until January for De Jong to be back fit and healthy. Other than that you can’t really complain. We overcame City with a midfield three that cost less than ¬£2million. Sissoko cost less than ¬£2million, and at times (I stress times) he looks a really fantastic player.

In many ways it further the frustration because we spend nothing and get really good players, but it’s like building a house. We buy a coffee table by selling the sofa.

Q. After struggling early on, Rangers have improved a great deal over the last four games. Any thoughts on how we have started?

A. I think you’ve got exponentially more potential to stay up than you did last time. You have players who genuinely seem to care for the club and are grateful for the opportunity to be there. I think Charlie Austin embodies that, and credit to you for sticking by him as it would have been very easy to go and splash money on a big name.

Eduardo Vargas frightens me. He was talking to Sunderland prior to yourselves and he seems to finally be clicking in Europe. I think given the way he plays for Chile he’s perfect for this league and I think he compliments Austin very well. Defensively, I feel like I’m looking at the team of the year from 2007, but there’s experience in there which can’t be sniffed at, especially seeing as we’re shifting full-backs inside to play defence at the moment.

The one thing I still find curious is Adel Taarabt. Your fans seem to love him, and from the bits I caught at Milan he looked really good, but Redknapp just doesn’t seem interested. Also, if he’s carrying three stone extra, I want to know his secret.

Q. There is a huge passion for footballing success on Tyneside – what do you think it would take to propel the Toon Army into the English footballing elite?

A. The sad answer to this is money. You look at the shopping baskets of clubs like ourselves and the elite, and there’s your answer. ¬£40million on Eliaquim Mangala is more than our first eleven cost. There was claims we were close to being the club that Manchester City’s owners bought, but then you try and console yourself with the idea that it would remove the fun and dehumanise your club.

I’d love it to be like the 90’s where you could have a real good go, but unless you have money for a few seasons, it’s going to be tough.

Q. How do you think Pardew will set up on Saturday? Who is the Toon player to watch and why?

A. I think you’ll get a 4-3-3/4-5-1 that shifts depending on if they have the ball or not. As for how they’ll play, they’ll really want you to come onto them. If you’ve caught Newcastle of late, I’d encourage you to notice how many of the goals are counter-attacks. He’s not the best at picking holes in teams, especially without Cabaye, so now he needs spaces to open up in other ways.

It will come down the flanks, and he full-backs will be encouraged to provide support.

Perez isn’t anything big, but he’s clever. If he can get your central defenders out wide he’ll have some fun, but he’s quite easily marshalled in central areas.

The player to watch is usually Moussa Sissoko. He was largely used on the right wing, which wasn’t really his best position, but now he’s central he gives them a real thrust and drive on the counter attack. Stop him and you’ll do a good job at stopping the team.

Q. What do you make of QPR manager Harry Redknapp? How is his image perceived by Newcastle fans?

A. Harry Redknapp is an interesting character. I was actually in the press conference where he slated Boswinga (Bosh-Winger as he called him) and spoke openly about his pay-packet. It was only myself and a few others and I asked him why people at the club thought they could afford to spend so much.

I think his image has taken some bitter blows the last few years, starting with not getting the England job. I sense he’s not the most hands on manager, and while he seems to be doing a solid if not spectacular job, I wonder if you couldn’t do better.

Q. Which current QPR player/s do you rate or admire, if any? What about QPR players of the past?

A. Of the past, I would say Les Ferdinand and Trevor Sinclair were real strong images in my youth. That bicycle goal is still an amazing piece of technique and just brings back great memories in general.

More recently, I’d say I really enjoyed Adel Taarabt. I think he plays with a swagger and confidence about him that harked back to the 70’s at QPR. I think that’s perhaps where our clubs align in that we both like to be entertained and he’s certainly an entertainer.

Q. Which three teams do you tip for the drop this season and why?

A. I think two of the promoted teams will go down and I think Palace might also drop down. Leicester have made the mistake of relying too much on those who got them up, while upgrading in the wrong areas, and I just can’t see them having those clutch moments in games. Burnley are in largely the same position but without any upgrades.

As for Palace I say it purely because I’m not sure if I see enough cohesion there. Under Pulis they were regimented and incredibly hard to break down. I think they’ve lost that with Neil Warnock, and losing to Sunderland in the way they did set off a few alarm bells in my head.

Q. Score and prediction for Saturday’s game?

A. I would say something like 1-0 to ourselves just because we’re in quite good form.

Many thanks to Kristan for taking the time out to answer our questions.