NEWCASTLE UNITED will attempt to kick-start a major summer recruitment drive with the twin capture of midfielders Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Colback.
The Magpies travel to Arsenal this evening looking to arrest a run of five successive defeats, but while there is a determination to claim sufficient points in the final three matches to secure a finishing position in the top half of the table, thoughts are already turning to the improvements that are required in the close season.
New managing director Lee Charnley has already held a number of discussions with a recruitment team that also features owner Mike Ashley, manager Alan Pardew and chief scout Graham Carr, and Shelvey and Colback have emerged as early targets.
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Shelvey, who scored one of the goals of the season as he floated a long-range strike over Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan at the weekend, joined Swansea for £5m last summer.
However, the Swans are expected to undergo a major overhaul of their own once the transfer window opens, and there is confidence within St James' Park that the 22-year-old midfielder can be prised away from South Wales.
Having given Shelvey his professional debut as a 16-year-old at Charlton Athletic, Pardew is understood to have been pushing especially strongly for Newcastle to pursue the Londoner.
He is also aware of the growing interest in Colback, who is set leave Sunderland when his contract expires at the end of the season whether the Black Cats remain in the Premier League or not.
Newcastle officials have held a number of discussions with Colback's representatives, and while Everton and West Ham have also been in touch to register their interest, the midfielder's desire to remain in the North-East could prove pivotal when it comes to firming up his future plans.
The pursuit of two central midfielders underlines the extent to which deficiencies in that area of the field are perceived to have played a crucial role in Newcastle's alarming slump in the second half of the season.
While a failure to directly replace Yohan Cabaye in the January transfer window clearly had a huge derogatory impact on Newcastle's performances, there is an acceptance within St James' Park that the club's midfield resources had already become dangerously diminished prior to the Frenchman's departure.
“The team was impacted in the last window, and we didn't have the depth of creative influence that came out of the team with Yohan (leaving),” said Pardew. “We didn't have cover for him and, as much as we didn't replace Yohan and we need to replace him this summer, we also need to get cover in as well for that type of player.
“I think greater depth is an area I've touched on with Cabaye, where we perhaps didn't have a creative influence in the midfield area of his type.
“I think that's a fair point, and I think that's something we have to be clever with because the money (available to spend this summer) is the money.
“Sometimes, you invest in that top player and you haven't got enough for the squad, so maybe we need to spread it a little bit without taking away the quality of that first XI because we still need to improve that first team.”
In the short term, the priority is to secure enough points over the final three matches to remain in the top half, but in the future, Pardew does not want Newcastle to become a club content with finishing in the top ten.
While the board has hinted a top-ten finish will be the baseline target at the start of each season, Pardew is already eyeing a return to a European position.
At the moment, such a scenario feels like a pipe dream, but Pardew has seen enough to feel confident that the medium-to-long-term future could be bright.
“It matters psychologically to us that we finish in the top ten, but what we really want to do is finish in the top six, and that's what we have to focus on in the summer,” he said. “There's no point in us focusing on a top-ten finish this summer – we've got to focus on the top six and I think we can.
“I can only say that where I sit as the Newcastle manager, looking at the club, I think it's in a strong position, although these short-term results over the last five games have put a bit of a stain on it. We need to remove the stain by getting a result, and then we can look forward to a good summer.”
In particular, Pardew is buoyed by the quality of some of Newcastle's youngsters who are beginning to make a mark at academy level.
“When you start talking about what's underneath (first-team level), there's an assumption of, 'Oh, we're not going to sign players', but that's definitely not the case,” he said. “I want to make that point strongly.
“We have investment in the summer we can make, and we're going to make that investment, but the truth of it is – and I don't think it's for next year actually – that in two or three years time, we've definitely got six or seven kids here who are going to make an impact. But it won't be for next year, let's make that clear.”
Pardew will be back in the technical area at the Emirates tonight, and is also able to welcome Moussa Sissoko back into the starting line-up after the French midfielder completed his recovery from a hamstring strain.