ONE of the few printable jokes surrounding Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is that his biggest game of the season is when Wigan Athletic come to town.
Who needs Tyne/Wear rivalry, after all, when old business foe Dave Whelan heads north for the sportswear derby?
Joking aside, however, Monday night’s clash between the two sides at St James’s Park is looking increasingly ominious for Magpies boss Alan Pardew.
Successive home defeats to West Ham United and Swansea City were greeted from the stands at full-time by mere groans.
These noticably became boos after a tepid draw against Maritimo in the Europa League.
Two pointless away trips later and the anti-Ashley chants may return if United lose or even fall behind against Wigan.
Personally speaking, defeat or no defeat on Monday night, I believe Pardew deserves far more time to turn Newcastle’s current slump around.
Had he not unexpectedly piloted the club to fifth last season then expectations would not have risen so high this time around.
Pardew, like managerial neighbour Martin O’Neill at Sunderland, is to an extent a victim of his own success.
But the malaise cannot continue indefinitely, particularly with the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal lying in wait for Newcastle during a hectic December.
Ashley, shrewd businessman that he undoubtedly is, presumably budgeted for the odd bleak spell appearing during the eight-year contracted handed to Pardew just two months ago.
It is just unlikely that he thought the footballing weather would turn so grim so soon.
Should former Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo appear on some pundits’ couch this weekend and proclaim he is refreshed and ready for a new challenge then who is to say that Ashley might not suddenly get trigger happy?
Next week marks two years since Pardew became Newcastle United manager.
That is a Queen Victoria-style reign for any Newcastle United manager.
Anything less than a victory against Wigan and it might not be anniversary cards that Pardew receives next week.
- GAVIN LEDWITH