ALAN PARDEW wants Newcastle United to forget about a new year trip to Ukraine and focus on reviving a domestic campaign threatening to turn into a crisis.
The Magpies were yesterday handed a twolegged last-32 tie with Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv in the Europa League, with the first leg scheduled for February 14 at St James’ Park.
Before the return to European action and the long trek to Kharkiv a fortnight later, Newcastle have a Premier League season to save – starting with tomorrow’s visit of struggling Queens Park Rangers.
Newcastle are two points above the relegation zone after 17 games, a far cry from the top four place they had been hoping to push for back in August.
Injuries to key players have not helped, but Pardew does not want to make excuses and is desperate to see a display against QPR which lifts the whole club before the festive period.
“It’s doom and gloom in that you want to win games,” said Pardew. “We’re not walking around smiling and enjoying ourselves, which you can do when you’ve got a couple of wins under your belt and it makes for some lighthearted sessions.
“It’s pretty serious stuff when you haven’t and we want to make sure the players are focused on everything they have going in their lives as well as their training.
“The one thing that we have in the group is a mentality to put it right and that’s what we’re focusing on. We’re working and leaving no stone unturned, not just me, but the players and all my staff, to give us the best possible team we can have fitness-wise and giving us the best possible chance of winning the game.” While Newcastle will have to deal without injured trio Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Steven Taylor until the new year, Pardew wants those he has available to purely concentrate on climbing up the Premier League table.
There has been the unwanted distraction of being forced to deal with further speculation about the future of leading goalscorer Demba Ba this week.
In an interview in France he hinted a move to Arsenal, one of the clubs interested in him, would be attractive. With a £7.5m release clause in his contract Ba’s future is likely to be a source of much debate throughout the January transfer window.
The Senegal striker has not been fined, but has been told to be more careful. Pardew said: “I think if I was a player here it would annoy me, because it’s constantly about Demba.
“If they pick up a paper it’s all about Demba and obviously we know it isn’t, but it takes away some of the important issues we’ve got.
“The important issues are making sure that when our players play well that they get the reward for that.
“Demba scored last week again and I hope he scores two and I hope he gets the headlines, but certainly I want a few others to get the headlines for the right reasons. But you only get that if you win games.”
Newcastle have been considering a swoop for £13mrated French striker Loic Remy. The Marseille forward would be a suitable replacement for Ba, although Pardew would rather add to his squad than lose a striker.
At least Newcastle do not have the distraction of Europa League football for seven weeks. Pardew’s thin squad struggled to cope with the extra strains and is a major reason why he is looking to strengthen.
It is hoped on Tyneside that two news faces will have arrived before the first leg with Kharkiv in mid- February. If they progress they will meet either Hannover or Anzhi.
“We’ve certainly been able to do more work on the training ground,” said Pardew. “I think in the last three or four games we have improved, I definitely think that and the stats suggest that too.
“I think we had something like 40 more passes than Manchester City, in the last three games we’ve dominated possession, we’ve created – more importantly – more chances than the opposition and more shots on target etc, but we haven’t had the big result we’ve wanted.
“When you have that game on Thursday that’s full pelt and it’s very difficult to recover from that, mentally as well. We’re going into the game this weekend a bit like we did last year, when we had a full week of preparation.”
Pardew is looking forward to Kharkiv’s challenge.
“I don’t know much about Kharkiv. I know it’s a long way, I’ve looked at that. They won the group so it’s a tough agenda for us but that’s some way ahead. We’ll look forward to it.”