ALAN Pardew has told his players to embrace the pressure of tomorrow’s critical clash with Fulham, as he hailed the next seven days as the most important of his Newcastle career.
United touched down in the North East yesterday stressing the positives that emerged from their Estádio da Luz clash with a vibrant Benfica. Despite a 3-1 defeat, Pardew does not believe the tie is over by a long chalk, and feels that elements of their performance should give them real hope and belief ahead of a weekend game which is of major importance in the relegation battle.
Newcastle’s presence in that struggle is a surprising development given their New Year form, and they remain 16/1 outsiders to go down.
But this is a huge week for the club, with Fulham preceding the return leg against Benfica and a potentially powder keg
Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland looming on the horizon.
The result and performance tomorrow will go a long way to setting the tone for the next seven days, and Pardew says that his team must live with the fact that the pressure is on.
He said: “We will have to cope with the pressure on us against Fulham. Can we? We are going to have to and I am confident we have the ability in the squad to get ourselves into a position in the league where we are a Premier League side next season.
“That is the focus for Sunday and then we switch back to Thursday to try and climb what will be a difficult hill, not what I would call a mountain but a decent hill, to try and get up it.”
Pardew (pictured below) has rigorously defended his initial assessment that the Benfica game is still in the balance, and says the performance gives him hope ahead of the second leg – and Fulham tomorrow. “I think we have actually gained confidence from the way we played,” he said.
“When you go away from Benfica, beaten 3-1 and you are really disappointed because we have gifted them two goals, you have got to take that into the next game. We caused them some problems and Papiss (Cissé) in particular was a threat all night.
“Momentum will be key for the whole of next week. It is important we get ourselves in a real positive place. It is a big week in terms of the season for sure, and we need to win. It is one of the biggest weeks in my period here.”
Fulham are traditionally troubled travellers but have enough devilment to cause problems for Newcastle. They have a good record against the Magpies and in Dimitar Berbatov, possess one of the Premier League’s most talented players.
Pardew thinks the game against Benfica was decent preparation for his squad. “It was a tough game on Thursday but just as tough as the others we have had and there is no reason why we can’t show our strength on the pitch on Sunday,” he said.
“It is an important game for us. And we want to set ourselves up for Thursday and to do that, we need to go and win against Fulham.
“They are a good team. Berbatov caused us a lot of problems at their place and is a great player. We have to make sure we take care of him.
“I thought Benfica had good strikers in Lima, Cardozo and Rodrigo, real quality, especially with their little one-twos on the edge of the box, playing around you and round the corner. They had a great little spell just before half-time – that was their best period and that is the kind of quality we will get from (Bryan) Ruiz and Berbatov.”
Meanwhile, United will continue to soldier on without Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tioté and Massadio Haïdara.
But Yoan Gouffran will come back into contention tomorrow.