Finding fault with Newcastle's logic when they gave Alan Pardew an eight-year contract in September was almost impossible.
Derek Llambias, the managing director, reasoned that the deal would provide stability at a club where chaos once reigned, managers came and went with alarming regularity and players ran wild, ultimately leading to Newcastle's relegation from the Premier League in 2009.
Last season, Pardew's astute management saw the team finish fifth and earned him the LMA's manager of the year award. Job security was the least he deserved.
Yet the ink had barely dried on that contract before it all started to go wrong for Newcastle, who have won only three times in the league – at home to QPR, Wigan and West Bromwich – since Pardew committed his long-term future to the club. The slump has left them two points above the bottom three and was exacerbated by this defeat at Brighton, who ruthlessly capitalised on the frailties caused by a huge injury list. Andrea Orlandi and Will Hoskins scored the goals for the home side.
Although Pardew has been lauded for last year's achievements, there is a sense of deja vu about Newcastle's current plight. His West Ham team that reached the FA Cup final in 2006 unravelled at an alarming rate and Pardew was soon sacked. There is a suggestion that while he has a positive effect on teams initially, eventually they become too easy to stop. "I think that this is a different set of circumstances. I've got a united dressing room," Pardew said rather pointedly. "I think the spirit's strong."
Indeed, although it would not be a surprise if there was unrest in the dressing room, there are no real troublemakers in the Newcastle squad and the players like and respect Pardew.
Ten first-team players were missing with various ailments, while Cheik Tioté has joined the Ivory Coast for the Africa Cup of Nations, and it was too much for Newcastle's youngsters to handle. "Sometimes when you put young players in a team that's got momentum, they get by," Pardew said. "But we haven't got that and there's four or five of them having to play. It's very difficult for them to produce their best."
This is a situation that calls for experience and Newcastle's youngsters are not ready, while some of their reserves are not up to the task.
Pardew was frank in his assessment that Newcastle are now in a relegation battle. Crucially, his job is not under any threat and there is understanding about the run of injuries which have exposed how thin the squad is while the sale of their top scorer, Demba Ba, to Chelsea for £7m last week, although expected, was damaging all the same. Money will be spent this month and the France right-back, Mathieu Debuchy, has already arrived from Lille for £5.5m.
"We're working round the clock to get players in and players back because there's no doubt about it that the form we're in, that we're fighting to stay in the Premier League," Pardew said. "The injuries have just been unprecedented in my time and I think the important thing now is we keep a steady head. We just haven't really had any momentum. I've almost had to change the team every week through injury."
The situation will slightly improve when they visit Norwich City, who are managed by Pardew's predecessor, Chris Hughton, on Saturday, after which they have winnable fixtures at home to Reading and away to Aston Villa, before games against Chelsea and Tottenham. Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cissé, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor should all return at Carrow Road but they will have to do without Hatem Ben Arfa's artistry for at least another month. James Perch also left Brighton with a swollen knee and Shola Ameobi is suspended for a match after a soft dismissal for two yellow cards.
Newcastle should have seen this coming. Pardew has been left in the lurch by the board's failure to back him properly last summer, denying him the chance to add both quantity and quality, and they have struggled to cope with the demands of the Europa League. Now Newcastle are paying for their complacency and lack of foresight; the owner, Mike Ashley, should take his share of the blame.
"We would have liked to have brought one more player in," Pardew said. "I thought Debuchy was going to get done and it didn't. Fortunately that is done."
While Newcastle were contemplating their exit from the Cup, elsewhere on the south coast Ba was scoring twice against Southampton on his Chelsea debut. Yet, if dealt with properly, Ba leaving could be a blessing in disguise. Part of Newcastle's problems can be explained by Ba and Cissé failing to click.
Ba's insistence on playing through the middle meant that the previously prolific Cissé has spent too much time marooned out on the right flank. In that regard, a bid for the Marseille striker Loïc Rémy, would be most welcome as he is more comfortable playing on the right. They could also do with signing another centre-back, thus negating the need to rely on Mike Williamson so much.
Pardew did not want to say it, but Newcastle probably are too good to go down, which was evident in improved recent performances at Arsenal and Manchester United. Yet that assumption is based on old faces returning and new ones coming in. Otherwise they really are asking for trouble.
Man of the match Andrea Orlandi (Brighton)
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