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Newcastle set new targets after superb recent run
ALAN PARDEW admits Newcastle United have been forced to revise their targets upwards after a superb first half of the season.
Back in August, the Magpies’ stated ambition was to finish in the top half of the table, with anything else regarded as something of a bonus.
When they kick off at home to Stoke City today, however, they will find themselves in sixth position, some nine points clear of their opponents, who currently sit tenth.
The Champions League places are just two spots away, and while no one is discussing a return to Europe’s premier competition yet, the ambitions for the remainder of the season have been significantly raised.
“In terms of the board, it is pretty obvious we were after the top ten,” said Pardew. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better than that, and that is what we are trying to do now.
“We are getting a little cushion between us and tenth, and we have to stay in that group. Everyone in the top eight won this weekend (prior to last night’s game between Arsenal and Chelsea), which is very unusual, and eventually something has to give.
“The important thing for us is to stay on the coat-tails of the leading group, which is pushing us on and making it such a good league this year.”
Newcastle’s fine recent run started with a home win over Chelsea at the start of November, and has now seen Pardew’s side claim 19 points from their last possible 24.
They have only suffered one Premier League defeat at St James’ Park all season – September’s 3-2 reverse to Hull City – and have only failed to score in one game since August.
Stoke recorded a morale-boosting win over Aston Villa at the weekend, but Newcastle, who also entertain Arsenal on Sunday, will still start as firm favourites for today’s game as they look to finish 2014 on a high.
“When you are in a good run of form, you get that feeling on the training ground that the players are working well, and that is what is happening,” said Pardew. “You want to try to keep that going as long as you can.
“This is a crucial time of the season because there are so many games, and if we get to the end of January and are still with the teams around us at the moment, and still in the hunt, I would take that right now.
“That would leave us in a great position for the final three months of the season, and give us a real chance of reaching our targets. This is a crucial period for us.”
In the last few years, it has been rare for Newcastle to have a home game on Boxing Day, as they have generally been travelling to one of the Lancashire clubs for their opening festive fixture.
Pardew’s Newcastle side played at home to Manchester City on Boxing Day 2010, losing 3-1, but the club’s last Boxing Day home game before that saw them beat Middlesbrough 3-0 back in 2001.
Coming off the back of last weekend’s emphatic 3-0 win at Crystal Palace, today’s game gives Newcastle a chance to maintain their momentum, and Pardew is delighted to be playing in front of a packed St James’ in his side’s final two games of the year.
“We haven’t had many Boxing Day games at St James’ Park, and I am really looking forward to it,” he said. “When the season’s fixtures are out, you always look for the dates of the local derbies and the games against the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea, but one of the first games I look for is the Boxing Day fixture.
“It is an iconic day in the English football calendar, and I am sure our fans, who were exceptional at Palace, are looking forward to being back at St James’ on Boxing Day.”
Pardew must decide whether to name an unchanged side for today’s game or switch formation in order to play an extra striker.
That striker would almost certainly be Shola Ameobi, and past evidence suggests that Vurnon Anita would be the most likely player to make way if Ameobi was recalled.
However, Pardew has also hinted that Hatem Ben Arfa will play a more prominent role during the festive period, and the Frenchman is perhaps more likely to start this afternoon than in Sunday’s game with Arsenal.
“We are coming to a real run of games now, and one or two different players will be involved, which will give people the opportunities they want,” said Pardew. “We were lucky that Shola and Hatem both came on (at Selhurst Park) and did very well.
“It’s important we remain consistent, but I don’t know if we can be any more consistent than we are at the moment. The most important thing is consistency of performance, and since October we have carried that on.”
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