ALAN Pardew insists Newcastle United are not facing a defensive injury crisis despite being without two of their three established centre-halves.
Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor will both miss Thursday's Europa League home game with Bordeaux, and the pair are already facing a huge struggle to prove their fitness ahead of Sunday's testing Premier League encounter with Manchester United.
Coloccini suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury at Old Trafford last Wednesday, while Taylor was forced to hobble off after injuring his calf in the early stages of the second half of Saturday's 2-2 draw with Reading.
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James Perch slotted alongside Mike Williamson in Taylor's absence, but the pair were all at sea in the final 35 minutes at the Madejski Stadium as Reading scored twice and struck the woodwork late on.
Pardew failed to strengthen his defensive resources this summer, with managing director Derek Llambias admitting Newcastle pulled out of deals for Douglas and Mathieu Debuchy because they felt they would not be getting value for money.
The result is that the Magpies are chronically short of defensive cover, but Pardew is confident his side can cope as they prepare for two crucial games in the space of four days.
“I think we'll be sweating on both Colo and Steven ahead of the Man United game,” said the Newcastle boss, who could welcome Danny Simpson back into his starting line-up on Thursday. “Fingers crossed one of them will make it.
“But I actually think we've been defensively solid all season. I think that's (Saturday) the first game where we've really been got at, and I think that was mainly a result of having to take a centre-half off at that time.
“For Perchy to have to go from right-back to centre-half is a difficult move. He just got caught out in a five or six-minute period, but he will be okay (if he has to play there against Bordeaux and Manchester United).
“He's been brilliant when he's played there in the past and I have no worries about him. It was only that little period that caught him out.”
Newcastle defended excellently in the first half at the Madejski Stadium, but it was a different story as soon as Taylor was forced off.
Jimmy Kebe twisted his way past Perch within two minutes of the defender being moved inside from right-back, and Noel Hunt was able to elude the entire Newcastle defence as he headed home Jobi McAnuff's cross from the edge of the six-yard box.
The enforced reshuffle clearly affected the Magpies, and Williamson admits it is never easy to have to make positional changes during a game.
“It's never ideal to have to change things around like that,” said the centre-half. “Unfortunately it couldn't be helped. We've had to change things around a lot recently and that's never ideal.
“We've got a strong squad, and the players that have come in have done well. They've staked their claim for a starting position, and that's why the gaffer has the players he has. It's about using the squad effectively, but you want stability if you can.
“Thankfully we've had Perchy to come in, and he's been fantastic for us last year and this season. It wasn't really a problem (on Saturday), but it's obviously something you'd rather avoid if at all possible.”
Newcastle's lengthening injury list is forcing Pardew to turn to a number of his younger players. Gael Bigirimana made his first Premier League start on Saturday, while James Tavernier made a rare start at Old Trafford.
Shane Ferguson was a substitute in both games, and after setting up goals for Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, the Northern Irishman could well be promoted to the starting line-up this week.
“He's pushing hard,” said Pardew. “It's hard to get in the team but I'm really pleased with him, he's been terrific. He has a natural left-foot delivery that really we haven't got in the squad, that's why he's so important.”