NEWCASTLE: Manager Alan Pardew insists the pressure is off Newcastle in their unlikely bid to qualify for the Champions League.
A sixth consecutive victory at home to Stoke City would further boost Pardew’s quest to secure a top four Premier League finish in May.
After being written-off by many before the season, Newcastle have punched well above their weight to find themselves level with fourth-placed Tottenham going into the final five games.
A top-six finish which is likely to bring with it a Europa League place has all but been secured, and Pardew said: “We’re at ease and we’re calm going into the last few games. We’re in great form and we take our momentum with us to Stoke.
“The squad is in a good place, and we’re not nervous. We’ve been up there challenging all season. The players have accepted their roles and everybody has been pulling in the right direction. I don’t get the sense from anyone I talk to in football that we’re in a false position in the table.”
If Chelsea fail to win the Champions League, a tally of four more points will be enough to secure a return to Europe for the first time in six years in the Europa League.
Newcastle’s aims are higher than that, however, and Pardew added: “Don’t think we aren’t focused. The maximum we can finish could still be third, where Arsenal are. That’s what we’re focusing on but we have to win the game with Stoke first.
“It could be a brilliant end to the season.
“The fans believe in what we’re doing and regardless of what we do in the last five games, we’ve had a great season.”
Ivory Coast international Cheik Tiote is available after overcoming a hamstring injury that ruled the midfielder out of the victory over Bolton.
Tim Krul and James Perch will shake off minor knocks to figure, and Leon Best and Danny Guthrie return from injury to take their place on the bench.
Pardew added: “Things are clearing up nicely on the injury front.”
Newcastle will encounter a Stoke side intent on revenge after they were comprehensively beaten 3-1 by Pardew’s men at the Britannia Stadium earlier this season. — AFP
- Newcastle striker Ameobi sidelined by hamstring injury
- Smashing Cisse is the talk of the Toon
- Go gun down the Magpies
- Ba hat-trick lifts Newcastle to third
- Man City motivated to beat Sunderland