Alan Pardew has backed his Newcastle United side to more than double their points tally of 33 in the second half of the season – despite suffering a setback against Arsenal.
The Gunners inflicted only the second home defeat of the season on Newcastle in a tightly-fought contest that United played a major part in – but they were ultimately undone by a piece of slack marking in the second half which let in Olivier Giroud for the only goal of the game.
It meant that in spite of their fantastic run of form in the winter months, Newcastle were nudged into eighth place at the turn of the year by wins for Tottenham and Manchester United over the festive football weekend. If ever there was an indication of the fine margins at the business end of the Premier League, that is it.
But despite the defeat and being knocked down the table there is no major cause for concern according to Pardew, who saw enough from their performance against the Premier League leaders to convince him that they can go on to double their current points haul of 33 – provided they have no injuries to key players.
“I’m happy with the way we’re finishing the year, and more importantly, I’m delighted that we’ve got our best players fit. If we can keep them fit, then I think we can replicate what we did in the first half of the season in the second half, and possibly even better it,” he said.
“It’s not like I feel that we’ve reached a position that should really be beyond us. I think 33 points is a fair reflection of how we’ve played, and we need to try to improve that in the second half. I think we can.”
Much of United’s improvement over the last two months has come from Pardew discovering a successful midfield formula.
He has paired Yohan Cabaye with Cheick Tiote – with Vurnon Anita sometimes added to the mix – and it has enabled United to match the very best in England. This time they were edged out by Arsenal’s quick feet and poise – but Pardew felt the way they competed in that area of the field was confirmation of the strides made recently.
Their tactics and midfield set-up have helped United overcome Chelsea and Manchester United and Pardew thinks they will take the scalp of “three or four” more Champions League contenders if they continue to play as they did against the Gunners.
“It was very important not to lose that midfield and allow them to dominate there,” he said.
“It was a really close call in there, and that bodes well for us going forward. The margins are so fine. It’s not like we’ve come up against the top teams, played well and lost to all of them.
“We’ve beaten Chelsea and Manchester United and it was as tight a game again. We just came out on the wrong side yesterday, but if we can stay like that against the top teams all year, I’ll be relatively happy because I think we’ll win three or four of them.”
Pardew’s overall feeling was one of frustration as his team were narrowly edged by an Arsenal team that soared back to the top of the Premier League with three impressive points.
The Newcastle boss felt that the only difference between the two teams was that the “breaks” did not go with the Magpies – unlike on Boxing Day when Stoke saw red twice to turn the course of an incredible game.
He said: “I’m disappointed for the players and our fans because I don’t think we did much wrong but we’ve got a defeat against our name. It was a very even, keenly-contested game.
“My overall feeling is that we’ve come out on the wrong side because a few breaks went against us in terms of decisions, and that was probably the difference.
“It’s frustrating that we haven’t got something on the scoreboard in terms of taking a point. One set play where we didn’t defend well has cost us, and we’ve been good at them all year really.
“It was a really tight and interesting game. A lot of my players can take massive credit from the way they played. We had some outstanding performances, but unfortunately we have nothing to show for it. Our confidence should perhaps even improve – and on reflection, hopefully the players will feel that.”
Pardew felt there was a foul on Vurnon Anita in the run-up to Arsenal’s goal and argued that referee Lee Probert did not allow the calls to go with his team. The Gunners scored from the subsequent free-kick as Giroud nodded past Tim Krul.
He said: “There was a definitely a foul on Anita, without a shadow of a doubt. There was also a foul on Sissoko that he didn’t give. I don’t want to say the referee had a bad game, but sometimes the calls go your way and sometimes they don’t. We had all the calls against Stoke.
“It was disappointing, and we’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”