Pressure builds on Pardew as City await
Alan Pardew was hailed last season as a steady hand on the Newcastle United tiller but finds himself contemplating an impending relegation battle ahead of a clash with wounded champions Manchester City on Saturday.
With the season nearing the halfway mark, Pardew is among a handful of coaches including City's Roberto Mancini and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger who are already feeling the heat.
Pardew was rewarded with an eight-year contract earlier in the season in an effort to bring stability to a club more used to the spinning mayhem of the managerial merry-go-round.
The deal was in recognition of the fact that the former West Ham United boss had steered the north east club to fifth place in the Premier League last term while making the most of a limited transfer budget.
The close-season optimism that he could propel his charges to the promised land of the Champions League has evaporated as this season has progressed and after one league win in seven matches, they find themselves 14th and two points above the drop zone.
A haul of 17 points from 16 league games is evidence that the magic touch wielded by the plain-speaking coach has been absent in his side's early season skirmishes while Monday's 2-1 defeat at Fulham set alarm bells ringing.
"I'm worried in so much as we are not picking up enough points, that is pretty evident," Pardew said.
"We just didn't defend well if I'm honest, we are going to have to be better - we can't concede soft goals at this level."
The timing of City's visit is not ideal for Newcastle as the Premier League champions are themselves desperate to return to winning ways having fallen behind local rivals United in the title race after an injury-time derby defeat.
For City manager Mancini, last weekend's reverse prompted a burst of bravado with the Italian stating his side are superior to United and will have won the double come the end of the season.
It also led to reports of dressing-room discontent at the Etihad Stadium. The derby was their first league defeat of the season and a second slip up in a week would leave a serious dent in Mancini's plans as well as questions about his future in the job.
The six-point gap between the top two means the pressure is off league leaders Manchester United, who will feel confident of continuing their good form at home to Sunderland on Saturday having won their last four league games.
They come up against an opposing manager in Martin O'Neill who, in his heyday, was touted as a future replacement for Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford but whose stock has slipped so significantly recently that Tuesday's 3-0 win over Reading was labelled make-or-break for the coach.
Wenger, previously untouchable in his 16 years at Arsenal, is another who is under serious pressure.
After being humiliated by fourth tier Bradford City in the League Cup on Tuesday, the Frenchman's reputation could ill-afford another debacle at second-bottom Reading on Monday.
Just two weeks ago, Wenger refused to rule out a late push for the title but the North London club are wallowing 15 points off the top and showing only glimpses of their eye-catching best.
Liverpool will hope to register their third straight Premier League win when they host Aston Villa on Saturday while fourth-placed Everton travel to Stoke City, who are unbeaten at home in the league since February.
Tottenham Hotspur were dealt a cruel blow at Everton last weekend, conceding twice in injury time to lose 2-1, but will be looking to make it four league wins out of five at home to Swansea City on Sunday.