THE LOSS of their top scorer and midfielder enforcer has prompted Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew to rethink his tactics, but Danny Guthrie believes that defeat at Fulham was not necessarily down to the Magpies' new look formation.

With Demba Ba and Cheik Tiote featuring for Senegal and the Ivory Coast respectively in the African Cup of Nations, Pardew switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation at Craven Cottage which looked to have worked a treat with Newcastle 1-0 up at half-time.

But despite a capitulation in the capital, with Newcastle left to lick their wounds at full-time having conceded five in the second half to lose 5-2, midfielder Guthrie refused to blame the tactical switch as a contributing factor in defeat.

He said: "I don't think you can blame the formation. I don't think that had anything to do with it because we were going so well before the break.

"I thought the first half was as well as we've played away from home all season. But obviously the second half was a completely different story. We went 4-4-2 once we were chasing the game, but I don't think that made any difference either. It was the same personnel on the pitch.

"There were words said after the game, and rightly so. It's hard to take after being so much in control throughout the first half."

The adjustment of formation allowed Hatem Ben Arfa into the Magpies' attack, with the young Frenchman's contribution since his return to the side not going unnoticed by his manager.

"I thought Hatem did some fantastic things," said Pardew.

"His discipline for the team is improving, and I thought he was a really good thing for us. He also scored a really good goal.

"We all know the Premier League, it's a 90-minute game. For 45 minutes we were great, but most games this year we've been strong for the whole 90 minutes. We've had little lapses in games, but not many. So a disappointing period of the game cost us on Saturday. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again and learn from it.

"We're realistic enough to know that a Europa League place would be an absolutely amazing season for us. The players have played to the maximum all season. Yes, we had a poor 20 minutes here, but I can't moan as a manager about this team. They've been brilliant.

"It can act as a reminder that we have to keep working hard. That's what we'll take away from it. If you lose concentration at this level, it will be costly. But we can't dwell on this too much and be too hard on ourselves.

"It's done and there's nothing we can do about it except make sure that if we concede another soft goal like we did on Saturday, we react much better than we did. That's the lesson from this game."

Pardew and the Newcastle players are in Tenerife for warm-weather training before returning tomorrow in preparation for their FA Cup fifth round game at Brighton on Saturday.

Meanwhile, United have firmed up their interest in Watford defender Adrian Mariappa, and made an opening bid for the centre-half yesterday, but reports from Hertfordshire suggested last night that the Championship strugglers had dismissed the offer out of hand.

Mariappa, 25, is a product of the Hornets' youth academy and has made 244 appearances for the Championship side. It is believed that a deal around £2.5million would be enough to prise him away from Vicarage Road.

The Magpies are also believed to be tracking Guingamp striker Anthony Knockaert, who claimed yesterday to be the subject of interest from the North-East.

He told French sources: "They are in touch with my agent. Now, I take care of my own work and nothing else. My agent does not put all that in my mind so I can continue to work in the best way."

Ben Arfa given award

Ben Arfa has been voted as the Budweiser Player of the Round following his performance against Blackburn Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup.

The midfielder received 43 per cent of the 4,000 votes cast on, ahead of Wrexham's Adrian Cieslewicz, Blackpool's Matt Phillips, Swindon's Matt Ritchie and Macclesfield's Arnaud Mendy.