A YOUTHFUL Newcastle United squad will head out to France this morning buoyed by Monday night's return to winning ways and goalkeeper Tim Krul thinks the club's stability was key to bouncing back.
After four successive Premier League defeats Newcastle could have been far too close to the relegation zone for comfort had they lost a fifth against Wigan for the first time in more than 20 years.
Far too often in recent times such a frustrating run of results would have led to question marks about the manager's position. This time around, just months after Alan Pardew signed a new eight-year deal, there was no such uncertainty.
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Injuries to key players have hampered Newcastle's start to the campaign, which has also had the added strains of pursuing success in the Europa League.
But when they play their final group fixture with Bordeaux tomorrow night - knowing qualification to the last-32 has already been secured - there is relief in the dressing room that they have addressed a worrying domestic slide.
Krul said: "It's important (to have no doubts about the manager's position), it was our fault - not the manager's - and of course we had injuries but we're not allowed to blame that, we just didn't play well.
"We knew that and the manager was saying that to us. Everyone knew we weren't playing like we did last year. In football you go through bad spells, we even did last year. We had a few bad games but hopefully we've been through that period now and we can kick on.
"Of course the contracts and the stability help. When the manager signs an eight-year deal and the staff is committed, it's perfect because you need that. There's been not one whisper about the manager, but then he's signed an eight-year contract!"
Victory over Wigan on Monday has lifted Newcastle five points clear of the bottom three after 15 matches. What is more prominent in Pardew's thinking, however, is the six points separating them from the top six.
Despite a frustrating start to the season, Krul thinks there is more than enough time for Newcastle to make sure this campaign is as memorable as last season's fifth-place finish.
"We're not far away from the top end of the table," said Krul. "The league is quite tight this year and a few wins puts you right back up there and keeps everyone at rest a little bit.
"We knew this year with Europe it wasn't going to be easy. We knew it was going to be tough to achieve the same as we did last year but just get the confidence back and who knows? We're in the next round in Europe, we've got the FA Cup to look forward to and the league, hopefully we can climb up the league as soon as possible.
"We've already achieved one thing: the Europa League. We wanted to stay in that, we're in the last 32 and it's a great competition to be in.
The FA Cup, hopefully we can go on a run there. We've got Brighton in the third round. It's not a bad draw, a chance to get them back."
With Demba Ba, Davide Santon and Cheik Tiote unlikely to be risked at Bordeaux tomorrow, Pardew's first XI will be made up largely of inexperienced personnel.
Krul himself is likely to be left out for Rob Elliot and the Dutchman admits the onus has to be on precaution ahead of Monday's Premier League trip to Fulham.
"We've qualified, that's the main priority," said Krul. "Now we just need to see how everyone is. The manager will decide who's fit and who's not fit to go.
"Is it important to get the top spot? Yes and no. I think I've heard (Jose) Mourinho say that every time he's won the Champions League he's finished second in the group.
"Great teams are dropping down from the Champions League but I've also seen a lot of good teams in the Europa League already. I'm not really fazed whether it's top of the group or second. We've qualified, that's the most important thing.
"We're the first English team to do that. We went through a bad spell but like I said, hopefully we're over that. We're through now, hopefully we'll top the group and I'm looking forward to Fulham now."
Looking forward is exactly what is on Krul's mind. Concerns had increased after four consecutive defeats, but Monday's 3-0 win over Wigan should have given everyone a fresh impetus.
Krul said: "When you lose four times in a row it's unacceptable for a club like Newcastle. Everybody was just more shocked than anything but I think fair play to the lads, we stuck together and spoke about it. "We knew we had to work hard and that's what we did. We started at Stoke and we did it on Monday again. I'm just glad everyone stuck together and we got our reward."