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Pardew urges Newcastle to set themselves up for next season
ALAN Pardew has challenged his Newcastle United players to take a leaf out of Everton's book and ensure a strong finish to the season sets them up for a tilt at European qualification again next term.
Last season, Everton suffered just one defeat in their final 11 matches as they surged up the Premier League table to finish in seventh position, a superb run of form that was carried over into the current campaign.
Renowned as slow starters, David Moyes' side burst out of the traps this time around and currently find themselves ensconced in sixth place and targeting a Europa League spot.
Newcastle are down in 13th after a frustratingly inconsistent season, but having won three of their last four league matches, the Magpies are in their best form of the campaign.
Another couple of wins should pretty much see them safe, but Pardew is desperate to guard against complacency with 11 matches still to play and is citing Everton as proof of the positive effects of a powerful finish.
“I said when we changed the team around that we had to do what Everton did because that will take you into next year, and that is how I am going to drive the team,” said the Newcastle boss, ahead of this afternoon's testing trip to newly-crowned Capital One Cup winners Swansea City. “We have to drive to be a top-six team in the future, and that is where my drive is.
“To be a top-three team in this country will always be very difficult for us, but fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth – that is really where we are setting our agenda. Things like the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup, they are all things we want to win and Swansea obviously managed to do that this season.
“What Everton have achieved this season, particularly early on, is in no small part down to what they did last season. Absolutely. That drive and winning focus carries over.”
Swansea are currently in ninth position, but if Newcastle were to claim only their second Premier League away win of the season at the Liberty Stadium today, there is no reason why the Magpies could not realistically target Michael Laudrup's side and aim for a top-ten finish.
That would be a notable feat given that they were flirting with the relegation zone as recently as last month, but the arrival of five new players in the January transfer window has had a major rehabilitative effect.
Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko have made an immediate impression, to the extent that the latter was shortlisted for the Premier League Player of the Month Award earlier this week.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa should get his chance to impress on the domestic stage this afternoon with skipper Fabricio Coloccini struggling because of a back problem, but it is not just the new arrivals who have impressed in the last month.
The likes of Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse have rediscovered some of the form that appeared to have deserted them earlier in the season, and Newcastle's squad currently looks as good as any in the Premier League outside the established top four or five clubs.
Perhaps the only exception to the general trend of improvement is full-back Davide Santon, whose strong form from the early months of the season has dipped in recent weeks.
Pardew accepts the Italian, who now faces competition for his place in the form of January arrival Massadio Haidara, has taken his eye of the ball slightly, but he has been working with Santon at close quarters this week in an attempt to engineer an improvement.
“I think he has had a couple of games when he has been disappointing,” admitted the Newcastle boss. “It has actually coincided with his call-up (to the full Italy squad). Sometimes, that can happen to a young player.
“You have achieved your goal so to speak – he starts for Italy and then just comes off it a little bit. But trust me, I have worked hard with him this week to refocus him about how he got into the Italian team because in the first half of the season, he was probably our best player.
“I won't be restricting his attacking forays, in fact I will be encouraging him more. But defensively, he definitely needs to concentrate a little bit more.”