ALAN PARDEW thinks it is an “insult” to suggest Newcastle United’s season is already over by insisting that finishing above Manchester United remains a challenge worth overcoming in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
With just four points separating the two clubs in the Premier League standings, the Magpies can close that gap when they face Tottenham at St James’ Park tomorrow night.
STILL MISSING: Newcastle will again be without captain Fabricio Coloccini tomorrow night against Tottenham
At the same time Manchester United will face a testing trip to title contenders Arsenal and Pardew believes a possibility of leapfrogging the stuttering Premier League champions before May would be a significant achievement.
Since failing to add any new faces before the January transfer deadline, Newcastle have had to deal with talk about having nothing to play for from both fans and the media.
Newcastle are out of both cup competitions, sit ten points clear of Swansea City in tenth spot and 14 ahead of the bottom three, so it would take a disastrous run of form to be dragged in to relegation trouble in the remaining 13 games.
Similarly, though, it would take an impressive improvement in form to close the ten point gap to fifth-placed Tottenham if Newcastle are to match the finish of two seasons ago which earned Pardew the manager of the year award.
"Manchester United are directly above us, that's why I've picked them out, not because of David Moyes, who is a big pal of mine,” said Pardew. “People say we have no incentive, but we have a professional incentive and I don't like to hear it, it irritates me as manager of Newcastle.
“When we finished fifth that season what was the incentive then? Was it Champions League? There was a point in that season, January-February when everyone had written us off saying the season was over … “Then we went on that amazing run, and I'm not saying we're going to do that again, but at the minute it's a little bit premature. We have to stoke the fans' passions with results.
“When we've got all our players available, we're a tough nut to crack and we've proved that against Man United, Chelsea and Tottenham this season, Aston Villa and the away games we've won.”
He added: “People say our season is over which is an insult to our professionalism. We are never safe from relegation either until you have 40 points, so we are not safe. It is professional pride too, the United result cheered me up because it gives us a chance to catch them, finishing above them would be a hell of an achievement so that is the incentive for us.”
Following the £20m sale of Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle have lacked creativity in the final third. Having Loic Remy suspended and both Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse missing through injury has not helped.
Only Cisse is thought to have a chance of recovering from his back problem to face Tottenham tomorrow night, but even then that is far from certain. Newcastle are also still without captain Fabricio Coloccini and vice-captain Cheik Tiote. Pardew said: “In the short term they're not available and we've got to try to get a result by hook or by crook. Hopefully we get our best team available and then we might have some more incentives.”
The injury situation has meant teenager Adam Armstrong, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, has been involved in recent weeks and Pardew has revealed he is set for a new deal.
“We had a 16-year-old on the bench and he turned 17 today so our bench has been strengthened a little bit,” said Pardew yesterday. “We have really high hopes for him, he is a great talent. We are looking to tying up his long term future very shortly.”
Armstrong is likely to be still among the substitutes tomorrow night, but there will still be no appearance from Coloccini. The Argentine has not played since injuring his knee in the defeat at West Brom on New Year’s Day.
He had been due to return to action my mid-February, but Pardew revealed he could return to action against Aston Villa on February 23 – and that he has been a miss when he has not played.
“I think he’ll be available for the Villa game,” said Pardew. “Fingers crossed we'll have him available. We have a 90 minute game and a week's training to get through before then.
“Looking at the games we have ahead of us, we have to get what we can from Tottenham with the team we've got available.
“If selected for the Villa game I think he will be match fit. He's missed the last three derbies which we've lost which is significant in my opinion.
“It's not just his ability but everything about him. We've missed his nonchalance and the security he gives us and that calmness. You can't put a price on that.”
Pardew, meanwhile, revealed Newcastle are not looking to replace Willie Donachie in the short term. The Under-21s coach resigned last week after he had been suspended following allegations he struck defender Remie Streete.
Pardew said: “We have good coaches here. We have people who will carry the flag until the end of the season. We have Joe Joyce, Peter Beardsley, Dave Watson, Steve Stone and John Carver to deal with Willie’s loss.”