NEWCASTLE United’s players have been denied a weekend off as manager Alan Pardew tries to right one of the anomalies of their season.
Tomorrow is the start of the Magpies’ fourth blank weekend of the campaign. They have failed to win each of the games on their return.
With the momentum of a five-match winning sequence – easily their best of the campaign – behind them, Newcastle cannot afford to squander it in an incredibly tight race for Europe. In an attempt to buck the trend, Pardew has changed their routine. The players are off today, but will be in for full training tomorrow.
“We looked at this period and decided we were going to do things a bit differently to how they’ve been done in the past,” he revealed.
“We’ve given the players some days off after the Bolton game and then we’ll be bringing them back in to do some work over the weekend.
“We think that might work better for us because after previous two-week breaks, we haven’t come back with a win. We’re trying to do it differently to make sure it doesn’t happen that way again.” Newcastle are not playing this weekend because their scheduled opponents, Chelsea, are playing in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. It means the Stamford Bridge meeting between the rivals for a European spot has been delayed until May 2.
The pair are engaged in a three-way fight with Tottenham Hotspur. One will play in the Champions League qualifiers, one in the Europa League and unless Everton knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup tomorrow, the other may get nothing.
Newcastle and Spurs are level on 59 points, with Chelsea – who have further chances to qualify for Europe via the European and FA Cups – two further back. The Magpies are the form side of the three.
Notable by his absence from the scoresheet during Newcastle’s scintillating run has been top-scorer Demba Ba (pictured left). Pardew has no concerns about 16-goal Ba, who has largely played wide in recent games.
“The first goal at West Brom, Demba must have been a centimetre away
from scoring, and when (Papiss) Cissé scored the second goal, he was actually fouled as he was going to score and it fell to Cissé, so he has been a little bit unlucky,” he argued.
“But he is on penalties, he will be in and around the free-kicks and he is working as hard as he has always worked.
“He is in great form, there’s no lack of confidence. His goal will come and then this will all be forgotten.”
Fortunately for the Senegal striker, compatriot Cissé has shouldered the burden with ten goals from his first nine Newcastle games. Ba has scored just once since the pair returned from the African Cup of Nations.
Meanwhile, manager Neil Lennon is hopeful of finally making goalkeeper Fraser Forster (pictured below) a full-time Celtic player after two seasons on loan from St James’ Park.
He thinks having been part of a title-winning side last week will have further improved his chances of landing the Hexham-born player permanently.
“We are hoping to speak to his agent and Fraser himself in the next few weeks,” Lennon revealed.
“He knows we are very keen to get things tied up with him as he has had a fantastic two seasons here.
“The feeling he may have got on Saturday ... I think it would be very difficult for him to leave here now. He is making all the right noises at the minute so it is a case of getting things sorted out.
“We have been gradually speaking about things over the piece.
“We didn’t want to put him under any pressure going for the championship but now that’s behind us, we will get the weekend out of the way and hopefully get things moving in the next couple of weeks. “
Despite having also had loans at Norwich City, Bristol Rovers and Stockport County, Forster is yet to play first-team football for the Magpies.
When he rejoined the Bhoys in August, Newcastle responded by signing Rob Elliot from Charlton Athletic.