ALAN Pardew is targeting a top-ten finish after his Newcastle United side eased their relegation fears with an entertaining 4-2 win over Southampton.
The Magpies pulled six points clear of the drop zone, leapfrogging their North-East rivals Sunderland in the process, as they claimed their third win in four league matches since the influx of four new players in the space of a week towards the end of the transfer window.
One of those players, Moussa Sissoko, was on target yesterday, cancelling out an early strike from Morgan Schneiderlin before Papiss Cisse added to his ever-expanding catalogue of sensational strikes with a 30-yard half-volley towards the end of the first half.
Rickie Lambert fired Southampton level shortly after the interval, but a penalty from Yohan Cabaye and an own goal from Jos Hooiveld lifted Newcastle to 14th in the table and enabled Pardew to target the top ten in the final two-and-a-half months of the campaign.
“If you look at the Premier League table, we've now put ourselves in a position where we can target tenth,” said the Newcastle boss. “That was the importance of the result today. That was what we said to the players after the game, we told them we should be looking to get ourselves into the top ten now.
“We can now move forward with that target because we are a completely different proposition to six weeks ago. There's an assurance about us now.
“Even when we went a goal behind, we played with a calmness and didn't panic. We successfully rode out a difficult spell at the start of the second half, and that bodes well for us going forward.”
There is no doubt that Newcastle's January signings have transformed the mood at St James' Park, and added some much-needed quality to a squad that now looks much too good to remain in the bottom third of the table.
Mathieu Debuchy performed superbly at right-back, attacking and defending with equal assurance, while Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa produced an accomplished second-half display at centre-half after Fabricio Coloccini was forced to retire with a back problem.
Further forward, Yoan Gouffran produced the surge that led to Newcastle's first goal, and Sissoko converted it with the kind of calm assurance that has characterised his performances since he arrived in a £1.8m move from Toulouse.
“They've all settled in really well,” said Pardew. “If you're wanting to see a top-class performance at right-back, then I don't think you're going to get much better than Debuchy's performance today. No one was able to get past him.
“Yoan has got an extra burst of pace and he uses it to really good effect. He edged it against (Nathaniel) Clyne, and he's one of the fastest full-backs in the league.
“Sissoko has made a big impact. It's been a long time since we had a natural number ten in terms of being that link player. Moussa is a better link player than Demba (Ba) was. Demba is an out-and-out striker and he's playing a number nine role at Chelsea, but we have Papiss to do that and Moussa links our play up nicely.”
Cisse's form has picked up significantly since Ba departed in January – something that is hardly a coincidence – and the Senegal international followed up last season's remarkable effort at Chelsea with another sensational strike in yesterday's win.
Rob Elliot's long ball looped over Luke Shaw and Jonas Gutierrez, and Cisse latched on to the loose ball to hammer a dipping half-volley into the net.
“The goal was an Alan Shearer-type strike,” said Pardew. “He's scored some superb goals, but that will certainly get in Papiss' top ten, that's for sure. It reminded me of that famous goal Alan Shearer scored here (against Everton) and as soon as he hit it, you sensed it was going in. He's always capable of doing something like that, he has that in him.”
Pardew also reserved praise for Elliot, who made his Premier League debut in place of the injured Tim Krul.
The 26-year-old had not even touched the ball when Schneiderlin fired him past him in the third minute, but he recovered to make a number of important saves, the best of which saw him turn a fierce Lambert free-kick around the post.
“I really felt for Rob, but he picked himself up superbly,” said Pardew. “I was really pleased for him with the way he played in the second half and in my opinion, he's every bit as good as Tim.”
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