Alan Pardew has admitted Newcastle United are in a “difficult place” and he has faced a battle to “focus minds” in his Magpies squad.
Despite bullish talk before the trip, United delivered a desperate performance at St Mary’s and were thrashed 4-0 by a Southampton team which looked brighter and more determined than Pardew’s listless XI.
Newcastle sit comfortably in ninth place and face little danger of falling short of Pardew’s pre-season target of a top-half finish - but he has felt the backlash of that unacceptable performance this week.
To be fair to the Magpies’ boss there has been a full and frank admission the performance at St Mary’s was something which fell well short of the black and white standard.
He has called for more desire from his players – who he feels must justify the loyalty of the sell-out crowd expected tomorrow.
Pardew said: “I think we’re in a difficult place, I make no bones about that.
“We’re on 46 points, we have a few excuses in terms of injuries so it’s easy to go ‘oh well, okay, the summer’s not far away’
“Certainly, I have made that very clear to the players that’s something that cannot happen.
“We can’t do that in front of 52,000 people paying good money to come through the door.
“We have to put on a performance which shows real commitment.
“For all you’d say about Man U’s performance in the week, they did show a real commitment.
“It’s difficult when you get to an area of the season where there are no real goals for you other than a league position. That’s something we’ve been trying to focus the guys’ minds on. We didn’t combat all of that desire from Southampton, it was certainly greater, and I don’t think that will be the case on Saturday.
“When you have desire on the pitch, things fall into place.”
Again, Pardew is hamstrung by injuries to some key United players. Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy and Tim Krul continue to nurse injuries while Moussa Sissoko Tweeted yesterday he will miss “two to three weeks” with a hamstring strain.
He posted a picture of himself at France’s Clairefontaine training centre, having been allowed by the club to return to France.
Pardew also admitted to a slight set-back for striker Remy, who had been expected to make the bench for the visit of Manchester United. Instead his comeback has been put back seven days and the striker will now look at Stoke for a possible comeback.
Newcastle have struggled to find the net without him, scoring just one goal when he hasn’t been involved.
That was the last-minute strike which saw off Crystal Palace in the last home match, although United will have to create more than that to complete a double over Manchester United.
Pardew added: “He’s in the same position as I thought he was going to be this week.
“We thought he was going to be fit, maybe do two days training and make the bench with an option of coming on in the last 20 minutes.
“He’s now in the boat for next week. The scans show a bit of inflammation and we’re going to have to scan him next Tuesday to make sure its gone, if it has, then there’s a chance.”
One of United’s most uplifting performances of the season was against Manchester United at Old Trafford but Newcastle have lost half a team since that day - when they rode high in the Premier League.
Pardew admitted: “We have a real injury crisis at the moment.
“We’ve lost Moussa this week, so of the team which started when we beat Man United, five won’t play, although one has left the club. Moussa has a hamstring strain and we think it will be two or three weeks.
“He’s been a terrific player for us and has had a great season.”
:: Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has been ruled out for six months due to a ruptured Achilles tendon and will miss Belgium’s World Cup campaign.
Confirmation of Benteke’s setback came from his club last night, after he underwent a scan having suffered the injury in an earlier training session.