Lou Macari: Stoke City can take advantage of Pardew's misfiring Newcastle
WHAT on earth has gone wrong at Newcastle?
They were the team-of-the-season for some last May after finishing just outside the Champions' League places in fifth spot.
But tomorrow night they arrive at the Britannia Stadium in 14th place, two points behind Stoke, after losing their last three on the spin.
If ever there was a good time for Stoke to be playing Newcastle, then this is it.
There are no guarantees, of course, and we've seen plenty of odd results already this season.
But all things being equal, you'd have to fancy Stoke if they can produce their best tomorrow evening.
So what's the problem at Newcastle?
I just wonder if too many of their players have begun to believe all the hype and spent too much time basking in the glory of last season.
They are treated like Gods up at Newcastle when things start to go well, and they were certainly praised from pillar to post last season.
It might well be that this is an historical problem for Newcastle because how often have they seemed to hit on a decent team, only to see it all fall away in the end?
The other problem is that you have agents whispering in the ears of players, telling them how good they are and how they can get them a bigger and better club for a bigger and better pay day.
Throw in players like Danny Simpson appearing in the front pages rather than the back pages and you have a team that might not quite have their eye on the ball.
I watched the highlights of their defeat at Southampton on Sunday and they looked second to every ball.
Alan Pardew thought they were leggy after their Europa League game a few days earlier, but to me they just looked a little too disinterested.
Last season everything seemed to click for them, they grew in confidence and swept like a tidal wave to fifth spot with a huge and passionate support at their backs.
Oh yes, they also worked hard, but you wonder if they have made the mistake of previous Newcastle teams and fallen into that fatal comfort zone.
I remember writing a few weeks ago that Stoke shouldn't worry too much about their tough start because November looked like being a far happier month.
Fingers crossed, that seems to be how it's going after seven points from the last nine.
The fixtures always looked a little easier, and that doesn't half have a bearing on the league table.
Look at West Ham. They could have gone into fifth spot if they'd beaten Stoke eight days ago.
Now they are looking over their shoulders because they know there's a really awful set of assignments coming up, beginning at Old Trafford tomorrow.
Stoke were strong, competitive and industrious in beating Fulham at the weekend, by all accounts, and I can see a similar offering being too much for Newcastle tomorrow.
Certainly if Newcastle are anything like they were at Southampton.
I CAN pay no bigger tribute to the late Dave Sexton than to say he was my favourite manager.
That's no disrespect to giants of the game like Jock Stein, Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson, because I liked them too.
But Dave, who died aged 82 at the weekend, was both a football man and a nice man.
He was a culture shock for United because he followed five or six years of the Doc.
Dave was never high profile and that was one of the reasons he was replaced in 1981 by Big Ron after nearly four years at Old Trafford.
Dave was not a big media man and was not outspoken like the other two, but he knew his job all right.
He came from a tough boxing family and so he never had to discipline you... he just gave you the eyes.
He was a very organised manager, one who loved his tactics, and so a lot of the United players never really understood him after so many years of working with The Doc and playing under his off-the-cuff ways.
Dave was not just a football nut, but a sport nut, and that was obvious at the end of one season when we flew off to Hawaii.
While the rest of us were swimming in the sea and making sand castles, he'd be stuck in his room all day watching all the American sports he'd never really seen before.
He was intrigued by their methods, and the only time we saw him was at breakfast when he'd be down to wax lyrical about the latest home run or touchdown.
After United he worked a lot with England, while I'd often bump into him at some far flung football ground.
He'd be out there three or four times a week watching matches – he just loved the game.