Cast your eyes back to the halcyon days of three seasons ago, when our beloved club, and now-despised manager, could do no wrong. Alan Pardew may have had the two best displays of his Newcastle tenure against Stoke during the 2011-12 season. First, his side bullied the infamously hard-nosed Potters at the Britannia, thanks to the two-way work of Jonás Gutiérrez and a very angry Demba Ba. Then in the spring, his "Trinity" of Ba, Papiss Cissé, and Hatem Ben Arfa, supported by Yohan Cabaye at his creative finest, dazzled Tony Pulis's cloggers at St. James' Park on the way to European qualification.
I bring this up mainly to illustrate how swift and sad the subsequent decline has been. Is there even the slightest chance that Pardew can draw that sort of performance out of his players against Stoke today? It's hilariously depressing to even contemplate it.
Team we want/team we'll get
In theory, Cissé and Emmanuel Rivière have the makings of an effective partnership. While the latter has looked pretty inept in front of goal in the Premier League, his hold-up play frees Cissé to adopt a poaching role. Of course, strike pairings are all about chemistry, and this duo has literally never played together. It's likely a moot point, as Pardew will continue to run his 4-2-3-1 into the ground instead of trying something else.
The other question mark today, which isn't reflected in either lineup, is the availability of Daryl Janmaat. He's apparently going to be evaluated before kickoff, with countryman Vurnon Anita scheduled to replace him if he can't go. That could pose a huge problem against the towering Peter Crouch, requiring excellent communication from the Newcastle back four. Too bad that's not exactly one of its strengths.
How Pardew will screw this up
The pressure seems to be off the manager for the moment, even though it really shouldn't be. That means Pardew will simply return to form, shrug his shoulders if we get beat, and move on. He won't figure out if Cissé and Rivière play well together, won't try to maximize the creative potential of Rémy Cabella, and it likely won't be enough to remove Newcastle from the foot of the table.
Mike Ashley made waves last week by apparently ranting about Pardew in a London pub, then claiming he was joking. With a probable defeat staring the club in the face today, the headline-writers will roll with this tomorrow:
No joke: Stellar Stoke prolong Toon misery