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Perch delighted with Newcastle's strength in depth
JAMES Perch claims Newcastle United's players were always confident the club's squad was deep enough to cope with the increased demands of European football.
With seven points from three matches, the Magpies stand on the brink of qualification for the Europa League's knockout phase, and while their domestic form has not been sensational, Sunday's 2-1 win over West Brom leaves them just two points off a top-six spot.
At the start of the season, it was feared that a failure to land a number of the club's leading transfer targets would leave the squad too light to succeed on more than one front.
So far, that has not been the case, with the likes of Perch, Gabriel Obertan, Shane Ferguson and Sammy Ameobi stepping into the first team with impressive effect.
Their performances have enabled Alan Pardew to rest some of his key players, and while they were hardly considered senior squad members in the early weeks of the campaign, Perch insists is it no surprise to see Newcastle's fringe players playing pivotal roles.
"There is strength in depth here," said the 27-year-old, who has already played at full-back, centre-half and central midfield this season. "With playing in Europe, the manager has to make a few changes and although we believed it on the training ground, perhaps we have surprised a few people by how much strength we have got in and around the first team.
"We have players who can play against any team. Shane and Sammy have both come in and played perfectly in the last few weeks.
"As a squad we are doing well, and there are a few young ones who are pushing their claim. Fergie has done really well and Sammy has been brilliant lately.
"It is a credit to those lads because playing in the reserves is very different to the first team and they have settled in very quickly."
Perch has been particularly impressed by Ferguson, who was one of Newcastle's key performers in last week's win over Club Brugge.
The 21-year-old is equally at home at left-back or left midfield, with his crossing ability providing a valuable attacking outlet that has already resulted in a number of goals this season.
His defending is perhaps not quite as polished, understandably so given his lack of senior experience, but Perch maintains it would be wrong to underestimate Ferguson's strength and physicality despite his small size.
"Shane is made of steel," he said. "People look at him and think he could easily be pushed off the ball, but it is nothing like that. There is a real firmness about his game and he never gets pushed over.
"He is a typical Irishman, very tough and very hard. Everyone he plays against will be taller and bigger than him, but he works very hard in training and is getting what he deserves."
The same could be said of Perch, a player who initially struggled to adapt to life in the upper echelons of the English game, but who has subsequently developed into a popular cult hero.
The 'Perchinho' nickname has stuck, and it was telling that Pardew selected the Mansfield-born utility man ahead of both Vurnon Anita and Gael Bigirimana when Cheik Tiote was ruled out of last weekend's game.
Pardew clearly values Perch's versatility and commitment, and the respect between manager and player is mutual.
"The gaffer has put a lot of faith in me and I owe him a lot," said Perch. "When he first came I was out of the picture in the first team, but he stuck with me and I stuck at it. I owe him so much. I am just so glad to have got so many games under my belt."