ALAN Pardew returned to the North-East last night pondering whether to pursue a trio of Championship targets in the final six days of the transfer window.
The Newcastle United manager jetted back from his club's warm-weather training camp in Tenerife, where he was monitoring a number of transfer issues as well as overseeing his side's preparations for Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round game with Brighton.
Watford defender Adrian Mariappa, Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha and Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez are all on his radar, but there are significant hurdles to overcome if the Magpies want to complete a deal for any of the trio.
The Mariappa situation is the most pressing, as Newcastle cannot afford to reach the start of February without having added a new defender to their squad.
Their pursuit of James Tomkins is at end, at least until the end of the season, as the 22-year-old has signed a new four-year deal with West Ham.
Hammers officials rejected a bid from Newcastle at the start of the month, and Tomkins' renewed commitment means he will not be going anywhere during the current transfer window.
The situation will change if West Ham fail to win promotion to the Premier League, and Pardew is expected to make a fresh approach in the summer if his former employers do not find themselves in the top-flight.
That does nothing to help him now though, hence the move for Mariappa at the start of this week.
Newcastle's initial offer, which was rejected out of hand by Watford officials, is understood to have been less than £1m.
Sources in London claim the Hornets are holding out for a £4m fee, and given the size of the gap between the two clubs' valuations, Pardew must decide whether there is any mileage to be gained from a fresh approach.
In the past, Magpies owner Mike Ashley has been extremely reluctant to significantly increase a previous offer for a player. Given that Watford want four times Newcastle's initial valuation, it is hard to see a deal being completed this month.
The same is true of Burnley forward Rodriguez. There is understood to have been contact between the two clubs about the 22-year-old, who has been spearheading his side's push towards the Championship play-off places in recent weeks.
However, Burnley boss Eddie Howe is adamant he does not want to lose his side's leading light, and the Turf Moor hierarchy are prepared to resist all advances this month in an attempt to enhance their club's promotion credentials.
Again, the situation is likely to change in the summer if Burnley are not promoted, and Newcastle have asked to be kept informed of any developments.
Of their three leading Championship targets, Zaha is the most likely to move this month, particularly in the wake of Crystal Palace's failure to make the Carling Cup final on Tuesday night.
Newcastle scouts have watched the 19-year-old on a number of occasions this season, and Palace's financial position means they are not in a position to ignore realistic offers.
However, Zaha signed a new five-and-a-half year deal at Selhurst Park last month, and with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool also having been linked with the teenager, the Eagles have slapped an £8m price tag on his head.
Having already shelled out £9m to sign Papiss Cisse, it is unlikely that Pardew could afford such a fee.
He could increase his spending power in the next few days, however, as goalkeeper Fraser Forster is close to completing a £2m move to Celtic.
The 23-year-old is currently on a season-long loan at Parkhead, and Bhoys boss Neil Lennon is desperate to secure him on a permanent basis.
The two clubs are believed to have agreed a fee, but Celtic will have to match Forster's personal terms before a transfer is concluded.
Forster could well be the only player leaving St James' Park this month, as fringe player James Perch insists he has no desire to move on.
Perch has made just 16 senior starts since joining Newcastle from Nottingham Forest 18 months ago, but having been involved in ten of the club's last 11 league games, the 26-year-old is happy with his lot.
"I wouldn't be happy with the role (as a bit-part player) for ten years," he said. "But I'm happier than where I was. To come in and play like I have is a step forward, it's progression. I am happy with that for now.
"It's awful when you are sat in the shadows. You are constantly thinking 'Am I going to play? Am I going to go in the next window?'
"But as long as you know, the manager knows and the players know what your value is to the team, it doesn't really matter what is going on outside.
"I know the manager has wanted me to be part of his squad. I have never once been told I am not needed."