Shola Ameobi is adamant that Newcastle United are still in the race for Europe – and insists the club would welcome another crack at the Europa League.
Defeat to Fulham in Saturday’s frustrating clash at Craven Cottage has left United eight points shy of sixth-placed Everton, who occupy the final slot that will guarantee European football this season.
It seemed like a hammer blow for the club’s efforts to finish in the top six but Ameobi feels that with Everton and Manchester United still to visit St James’ Park, the club can have a say in the race for Europe. Newcastle also take on Southampton, currently in eighth, in a run-in that also includes trips to title challengers Arsenal and Liverpool – whom Alan Pardew’s men face on the final day of the season.
It remains mathematically possible, of course, but a wider question is whether those in positions of influence at the club would really welcome participation in a competition that has proved problematic for Premier League teams in recent years.
Pardew is on record as being thankful for not playing in it this year, and earlier in the campaign he pointed out that all three of the Premier League’s representatives this season have sacked their manager this term.
On the flip side, qualification for Europe might help United look like a more appealing prospect as they face the inevitable prospect of having to recruit substantial numbers to support their summer rebuilding. It also might mitigate some of the disappointing messages coming from the club about the knockout competitions this season.
If United are desperate to dodge Europe, the message clearly hasn’t got through to the dressing room if the response of Pardew’s influential lieutenant Ameobi is to be believed.
“Hopefully I can help us in these last nine games and play a part in the run and see if I can get up as high as I can and hopefully finish in a European position, which is our ambition as a club,” said the striker.
“We still believe we can do it. As players you look and see there is still 27 points to play for. That’s a lot of points and way more than enough to get us into Europe.
“We’re still fighting even though Southampton have gone ahead of us but we play the next two games at home and they will be vital come the end of the season as to where we finish. As disappointed as we are with this result we have to move on and hopefully use those next two home games to really push up the table.”
United made a disappointing start to a winnable run of games on Saturday and supporters should not be fooled by Crystal Palace’s lowly status.
Since Tony Pulis took over they have become a tough nut to crack and patience and a spot of tactical ingenuity will be required to get behind a team that successfully blocked out Sunderland in their Premier League six-pointer at the Stadium of Light last week.
Ameobi’s own role in the run-in is unclear, with the striker having struggled for form this season and yet to register a goal in the league. But he is desperate to play his part and believes Newcastle’s season might be defined by a trio of games with teams around them.
He said: “We’ve got Everton, Man United and Southampton; whatever happens in those games will probably determine how well we do, but every game is huge now. The last ten games of the season your fortunes rest on, and it’s important you continue to carry the momentum we’ve had throughout the season.
“We don’t want the season to peter out, we really want to push ourselves as players.
“Setbacks are always going to happen, but it’s how you react to them and we have to make sure we react quickly to this defeat.”
Saturday will be the second of Pardew’s three-match stadium ban but it might have been a longer if he hadn’t apologised swiftly – and had the support of his club.
The FA released the written reasons for the manager’s ban yesterday and confirmed that they were initially thinking of a longer ban for an altercation with David Meyler which every official considered “aggressive” in their report.
But Pardew’s mitigation, which included an apology and a promise to undertake a course to manage his behaviour in the future, was successful.
The FA commission said: “In considering the sanction to be imposed, the commission considered initially a five-match stadium ban and a higher fine.
“But, based on the mitigation presented together with the action taken by both the club and Mr Pardew, the regulatory commission came to the conclusion that the appropriate sanction (£60,000 fine, three game stadium ban and five-match touchline ban) was fair, reasonable and proportionate.”
:: Newcastle's Dan Gosling was yesterday fined £30,000 by the FA, and warned as to his future conduct, after admitting breaching football betting rules.