Since time began, pundits, fans and tacticians worldwide have long discussed the key to winning games. Connoisseurs of free-flowing, attacking football will undoubtedly point to the role played by the trequartista, or the ‘number ten’ as we have become accustomed to calling it.
Teams opting to start with a lone striker supported by such a man might change things around by playing two orthodox strikers in order to get the goal they need. Whatever way you look at it, you will see that the most successful managers have an ability to make substitutions that can influence a game, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Not many managers would point to a substitution at left back as a way to achieve a desired result, however it would appear that Alan Pardew has a different view. There were eleven occasions in all competitions last season where a left back was brought on as a substitute. Although some of these can be explained, there were a number of occasions where his changes left this particular fan scratching his head.
It is also important to remember that on each occasion, following the sale of Yohan Cabaye, whichever player has found themselves occupying the left-back slot has been given the responsibility of taking set pieces.
Neither Davide Santon, Massadio Haidara or Paul Dummett have been known to whip in a teasing corner or hit a free-kick into the top corner, yet the responsibility has been placed on their shoulders for no reason at all.
On a cold December night at Swansea, Haidara replaced Santon when Newcastle were 1-0 down. They went on to lose 3-0. Just ten days later, the same substitution took place at home to Southampton with the game finely poised at 1-1. One must ask if Santon was unable to last 90 minutes, why did Haidara, who was presumably fully fit, not start instead?
It is easy to put two and two together, but such a change was needless. In Alan Pardew’s style of football the main objective of a left-back is to defend. In both of these cases it is hard to see how such a substitution would have snatched an equaliser or driven the side on to find that winning goal.
While winning 2-1 away at West Ham, Davide Santon was replaced by Paul Dummett in the 78th minute. Santon had done nothing wrong until this point. He did not look tired and was not injured. Again, all fingers point to Alan Pardew making a substitution without a logical explanation. A change for the sake of it. Because he can.
Only a few games later, the same change took place. Newcastle were 2-0 down at home to Sunderland, desperate to get back into the game. In attempt to restore some pride, Pardew sent on the young Welshman in the 64th minute. With a 3-0 scoreline from the previous season already hanging over his head, he saw his best bet as making a like-for-like change in the defensive third of the pitch. An astute tactical change Bill Shankly, Sir Matt Busby and Jose Mourinho could be proud of.
Eleven days later, Newcastle were losing at home again, this time to Tottenham Hotspur. However, it was only 1-0 and not all was lost. Sensing an opportunity to get a result, Pardew hauled off Davide Santon at half-time, who had started at left back. Obviously this would bring about a change. Indeed it did and Newcastle lost 4-0.
While there are other games that can be addressed, the point has been made. While Pardew has attempted to change the game in other areas of the pitch, there is an underlying, all too common habit of making a straight-forward swap in an area of the pitch not considered to be important by many. As highlighted by the final result, more often than not the impact has been minimal.
Alan Pardew very rarely offers an explanation or insight into his thinking during post-match interviews, but analysing each one is akin to breaking the enigma. Perhaps it makes Alan Pardew unique, a one off. Maybe there is some clever thinking behind his idea. However if there is, it is hard to find another fan that has bought into his way of thinking.