THE spotlight will be firmly on Alan Pardew at Selhurst Park tonight as he takes on his old team. Michael Ramsay spoke to two of his former players on his tactics and mindset ahead of the crunch clash.
IF Alan Pardew was enjoying some respite from the howls of derision and murmurs of discontent from an unforgiving Tyneside contingent, the former Newcastle boss will have to don yet another thick layer of skin for what is sure to be a fiesty encounter tonight.
Never one to shirk the spotlight, Pardew took his seat in the Magpies dugout each weekend with an act of defiance, as the whistles grew louder and the banners appeared in their hundreds.
For the last 18 months of his tenure at St James’s Park, the death knell seemed poised to signal his dismissal following a run of results that left supporters baying for blood.
Having arrived at St James’s Park in December 2010 with a beaming grin and in a jovial mood, towards the end of his rein he looked a defeated man, despite his protestations to the contrary.
Having walked out on the club almost four years to the day since he succeeded Chris Hughton, Pardew is now back at Selhurst Park where he is a revered hero.
With the Toon Army having struggled to come to terms with the firing of the popular Hughton, the mood at Crystal Palace is contrasting.
Having spent four years on the books of the Eagles between 1987 and 1991, Pardew wrote himself into Palace folklore with an FA Cup semi-final winning goal against Liverpool.
Now, having assumed control from the departed Neil Warnock, Pardew has instantly transformed the struggling club’s fortunes, overseeing five wins from his first six games.
So was Pardew the right fit at St James’s Park – or was he simply forced to work in constricting circumstances and weighed down by an ungrateful fanbase?
Hayden Mullins, a former disciple of Pardew at West Ham, has claimed that the 53-year-old “did very well for the club on what he was given” – and has labelled the supporters’ criticism of him as “unfair”.
“He’s always seemed like he’s had to sell his best players,” said Mullins. “He’s not necessarily had the resources or funds.
“Obviously, trying to replace them must have been very hard as well. Transfer dealings in and out might have been out of his hands.
“The stick he got from the fans during some games, with banners saying “Pardew Out” – that must have been very hard for him to work under those circumstances.
“I think it’s very unfair, but there’s only so long you can take that uncomfortable ride where your own fans are turned against you.
“So I’m sure that when the Palace job came, that was one decision that was in his mind.”
The 35-year-old midfielder, now at Notts County, played under Pardew for over three years, and reached two play-off finals and an FA Cup final.
Mullins, an ever-present under Pardew, was highly rated by his former boss, who once tipped him for England and even left Argentine superstar Javier Mascherano on the sidelines to accommodate him.
“He always seemed to get the best out of his players,” the midfielder continued.
“I think he was a very good tactician, a very good man-manager. He knows how to organise his teams well and knows how to set you up and attack.
“He worked a lot with the shape, generally got a very good team spirit in the dressing-room as well. He was fantastic to work with, during my career.”
He’s not the only player to think that. Nicky Shorey was part of the Reading side where Pardew cut his managerial teeth, assuming control in March 1998, when he succeeded Terry Bullivant.
His first two seasons would yield mid-table finishes before suffering a narrow 3-2 loss to Walsall in the play-off final in May 2001.
Shorey – who would make nearly 300 appearances for the club during a seven-year spell – had been snapped up from Leyton Orient in February for a fee of £25,000.
“He was very diligent,” said Shorey. “He wanted to know everything – he wanted to be part of every decision and learn as a manager.
“He was good for me when I first went there as a young player, because he really wanted to focus on improving the young players.
“Straightaway, he was saying to me ‘if you really want to progress, you can represent your country’. And I was thinking ‘hang on a minute, I’ve just come from Leyton Orient, and you’re saying this’.
“But that’s the way he was, and he made you believe it.”
It was a prophecy that came true. Three England caps – against Brazil, Albania and Germany – came the left-back’s way.
England could also be Pardew’s long-term aim. John Carver this week said he believed the former Newcastle boss could manage his country, and Pardew is known for his stromng self belief.
“I think he’s very ambitious,” added Shorey, now at Portsmouth. “He does want to do well and succeed – that’s just the way he is.
“That’s why he’s got to where he’s got to. But I think he just takes each job as it comes really, and just tries to do his best at that club at the time.”