We all know why: Newcastle crashed from Champions League contenders to relegation battlers in the span of one season, producing some ugly soccer along the way. Pardew's backers would point to the club's lack of investment and an outrageous run of injuries, while his detractors would cite his inability to come up with the tactical formula to generate fluent play and overall predictability.
Wherever you fall on the Pardew debate, though, let's all give him some credit for Newcastle's 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Saturday. His choice of formation — the same 4-3-3 he used for an impressive stretch in the second half of the 2011-12 season — was aggressive, particularly for a road game.
It worked. Loic Remy pummeled Villa down the left time after time early on, and once he grabbed the opposing backline's attention, Hatem Ben Arfa took over on the right side. Ben Arfa is playing as well as he ever has for Newcastle, and considering all the difficulties he's had with managers during his career, Pardew's relationship-building efforts merit serious praise.
Perhaps Pardew should have gone back to the 4-3-3 sooner, though he's never really had the ideal personnel to make it work. With Remy inching closer toward being able to play a full 90 minutes and Ben Arfa at his best, Pardew finally has dangerous wide forwards at his disposal.
When Remy tired and faded in the second half on Saturday, Pardew brought on the diligent Yoan Gouffran, who gave Newcastle fresh energy and anticipated a rebound opportunity for the decisive goal.
Pardew also resisted restoring Cheick Tiote to the starting lineup in place of Vurnon Anita, a move that would have fallen under the "predictable" critique. Anita responded with an efficient and steady performance, before Pardew lifted him for Tiote late in the second half to reinforce the midfield.
Anita was, of course, joined in the midfield by Yohan Cabaye, who made his first start of the season after allegedly going on strike in the wake of interest from Arsenal. It's impossible to know all of the effects of Pardew's decision to bring Cabaye back into the starting lineup, rather than use him off the bench and force him to play his way back in. The implications of the manager's handling of that situation will likely show up over the coming months; one would have to think the rest of the squad, particularly the French contingent, was paying close attention. But, while Cabaye didn't stand out on Saturday, the midfield mix was right. Cabaye, Anita and Moussa Sissoko effectively stifled Villa and kept the ball moving.
And suddenly, Newcastle's backline looks well-drilled and organized. Villa's monstrous striker Christian Benteke may have scored off a corner kick, but he was otherwise shackled. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa has settled in at center back alongside Fabricio Coloccini, Mathieu Debuchy has recovered from an opening game abomination, and Davide Santon looks markedly more composed defensively.
The players deserve the bulk of the credit — they're the ones actually scoring the goals, winning headers and making tackles. But if Pardew is ripped when the attack isn't generating chances and the defense is leaking goals, then he certainly is worthy of commendation when his team looks threatening going forward and stingy at the back.
For one game at least, that was the case.