NEWCASTLE United go into the final week of the season with their Champions League hopes in the hands of others, but Alan Pardew hailed his players for bringing “respect” back to St James’s Park.
When their final match kicks off at Goodison Park at 3pm on Sunday, the Magpies will be fifth in the Premier League. Yesterday’s 2-0 defeat by champions-elect Manchester City means they are relying on favours to finish third and swap the Europa League for a guaranteed place in the Continent’s biggest club competition.
Regardless of where they finish between third and sixth, Newcastle’s supporters showed their appreciation as the players lapped the pitch afterwards in T-shirts bearing the slogan “The 12th man – thank you”.
“The most important thing was we’ve brought some respect back to this club,” said manager Pardew. “The tradition and history – unveiling Bobby Robson’s statue (before the match) – some clubs haven’t got the fabric we’ve got.
“Now we’re back competing up there it must feel good to the supporters.
“I really hope next year we have the same sort of season and we’re competing for a Champions League position again. When you get beaten 2-0 at home in the last (home) game of the season you expect the stadium to be empty.
“They all stayed behind and paid their respects to us, as we did to them. It wasn’t a shallow effort by us with the T-shirts, it was a genuine thanks because I don’t think we would be in this position without them, I really don’t.
“Our home form has been terrific and they’re a big part of that.
“The whole day was a great advert for the Premier League and the best team won.
“I don’t like to say that because my team weren’t the best team.”
Ultimately, Newcastle came up short against a City side who can win their first league title since 1968 with a home win over relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers.
If they do, city rivals United will need a goal difference miracle in beating Sunderland.
Yaya Touré’s goals came in the last 20 minutes after an inspired tactical substitution, and Pardew felt weariness was a factor.
Newcastle beat Chelsea 2-0 on Wednesday, while City had not played since their defining win over the Red Devils on Monday.
“They looked a bit fresher than us,” Pardew reflected. “That effort we put in at Chelsea took a little bit of sparkle, especially out of our offensive players, Hatem (Ben Arfa), Demba (Ba) and (Papiss) Cissé.
“But Man City looked powerful, their back four was as strong as we’ve played against. They were the best team we’ve played this year.
“You could sense on the touchline it was a real tight, tense affair and we’d probably done our homework on each other.
“We were stopping them doing what they do well and they were stopping us doing what we do well. One goal was going to really change the face of the game and it needed a bit of quality to do that.
“We did a great job on that front four, as good as anyone this year.” Opposite number Roberto Mancini (pictured above) returned the compliments, saying: “Newcastle are a good team, they’ve had a fantastic season. To win here you need to play very well.
“You can only win here if all the team play really well.”
Mancini has done his best to appear pessimistic about his team’s title hopes in public in recent weeks. But he admitted he had not written them off after April’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal.
“When you are there for 28 games and you dominate the championship, you should have another chance,” he said. “It would be too strange not to.”