NEWCASTLE UNITED’S first team squad returned from four days training in Portugal last night, with Alan Pardew’s new No 2 insisting it was ‘no holiday’.

As well as squeezing in a few rounds of golf in the Algarve, the players have been on the training ground improving their fitness levels ahead of a free weekend.

Newcastle are not due back in action until next Wednesday, when they head for Fulham looking to claim the result that will keep them in the top half of the Premier League table.

And while a flight to the Iberian sunshine maybe seen as an unnecessary trip, Pardew felt it was a worthwhile exercise and has also helped his recently appointed assistant, John Carver, to get to know the squad.

“Sometimes people look at these breaks and see it as a holiday but it was nothing of the sort for the players,”

Carver said.

“First of all it was wet and windy and cold in Portugal but it wasn’t about getting sun anyway, it was about finding somewhere with facilities that we could use because ours were out of action because of the frost last week.

“The players have worked really hard. There have been double sessions of fitness work as well as football sessions and circuit training and we’ve done some quality work this week which hopefully we’ll see the benefits of when we go to Fulham on Wednesday.

“It was great for me too, coming in to a new group of players because it gives me the chance to get to know them and I have to be honest, there is an incredible spirit and a huge togetherness among them that has stood out for me.

“That is a huge asset for this football club and the most important thing is that we keep that going.”

Carver, Sir Bobby Robson’s former No 2, is not a new figure at St James’ Park, but much has changed in the time he has been away since leaving in 2005 and he has been encouraged by the contribution of two senior members of the Newcastle squad.

Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan are great characters,”

said Carver. “You hear a lot of stories about them from the outside but then you come into the club and you realise how important they are to the team.

“They are big characters and of course they are great for the club. They want to be here and they are a big positive influence on and off the field for this football club.”