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Newcastle ready to embark on testing run in upbeat mood
WHEN the domestic calendar resumes at the end of the international break, Newcastle United will face their toughest spell of the season so far. Crucially, however, they will do so with their confidence and optimism renewed.
The visit of second-placed Liverpool a week tomorrow kicks off a testing four-week spell that will see Newcastle head to Wearside for the trials and tribulations of a Wear-Tyne derby before tackling London duo Chelsea and Tottenham in back-to-back games.
It is a period that promises to define the prevailing mood for the remainder of 2013, and prior to last weekend’s trip to Cardiff City, it threatened to be a run that might have derailed not only Newcastle’s ambitions of establishing themselves in the top ten, but also the career of their manager, Alan Pardew.
Given the speed with which things can change on Tyneside, it still might. But with the afterglow of a fully-deserved 2-1 win over Cardiff refusing to fade, the next few weeks can be viewed as an opportunity to ruffle a few feathers rather than a period with the potential for pain.
“It’s going to be a fantastic month,” said goalkeeper Tim Krul, who is currently on World Cup qualifying duty with Group D winners Holland ahead of games against Hungary and Turkey. “We’ve got a very hard run of games, but now we look forward to those games and go into them with the confidence off the back of a very good away win.
“We have to work for each other every game, and we showed that against Cardiff. We scored two fantastic goals through (Loic) Remy again, and although we knew they would put pressure on us with some good substitutions, we dug it out and can take a lot of confidence from that.
“You need the positivity around the place. We’ve had a bit of a hard time of late and rightly so, but we can look on the positive side again and take that into the rest of the season.”
Last weekend’s victory was the perfect response to the game that preceded it, a 3-2 defeat at Everton that featured a shambolic first-half performance that saw Newcastle concede three especially ugly goals.
The defeat at Goodison Park led to increased speculation about Pardew’s position, with the presence of controversial director of football, Joe Kinnear, alongside owner, Mike Ashley, in the stands doing nothing to quell the mounting uncertainty over the club’s future plans.
Pardew has been able to enjoy a quiet international break thanks to his side’s win in Wales, but within the dressing room, there is a collective responsibility when it comes to analysing Newcastle’s failings this season.
“Yes, we didn’t play well in that first half against Everton,” said Krul. “But we have to take the responsibility for that, not the manager, because it was individual mistakes that cost us that night. There is pressure every week for the manager and us as players, but we reacted in the right way after the Hull and Everton games.
“We have ten points after seven games. We’ve already had a few wake-up calls and we know we can’t take anything for granted in this league. Every team is a hard game, there’s no easy games out there any more, but we have to keep going and build on what we did second half against Everton and in the Cardiff game.”
In particular, Newcastle’s players will be hoping that Remy continues to display the predatory instincts that secured him a late goal at Goodison and both successful strikes at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The Frenchman, who has been overlooked for international duty this week, has scored five goals in his last three games, and any lingering resentment over his decision to snub Newcastle for QPR in January has long since disappeared.
“Loic’s on fire,” said Krul. “I think he would like the next game to come now the way he is playing, and so would we after a very good win.
“He’s a fantastic player, we saw that when he was at QPR last year and now he’s doing the same thing here which is score goals. From the word go he’s been great for us.”
Meanwhile, Shola Ameobi has been passed fit to participate in Nigeria's World Cup play-off against Ethiopia despite missing the last four Newcastle matches with injury.
Nigeria play the opening leg of their play-off in Addis Ababa on Sunday, and Ameobi has already travelled to Africa for the game.
"I worked really hard to ensure that I’m fit for this game," said the striker. "I’m fully fit for the encounter – I’m happy to be here."
* Newcastle’s game at Manchester United on Saturday, December 7 will now kick off at the earlier time of 12.45pm. The festive home game with Arsenal has been put back 24 hours to Sunday, December 29 (1.30pm)
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