Pardew aims for unlikely place at top table

 

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The Independent Online

Cheick Tioté tackled the question with the same fortitude that has made him one of the most eye-catching midfielders in the Premier League. "Why shouldn't we be thinking about the Champions League as well?" he repeated when asked. "Who knows? It could happen." It would have been some comment to utter back in August, when there was genuine uncertainty about how Newcastle would fare after a summer of sales and signings. Eight months on, and with seven games of the season remaining, there is an outside chance that Alan Pardew could lead his side to Europe's top table, a competition they have not played in since 2003.

Newcastle, then, were not expected to finish in the top four of the Premier League, as they had done for the two preceding seasons, but Sir Bobby Robson, who had inherited a side fighting relegation, turned to his players to forge a team spirit that would fight for each other.

Pardew has done much in his 15 months in charge at St James' Park but forging a work ethic and finding an ability to tap into the men on the fringes has been key to their impressive season. Behind the headline-grabbing displays of Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé and Hatem Ben Arfa (28 Premier League goals between them) has been an emergence of those players whose futures looked uncertain. Ryan Taylor, James Perch and Mike Williamson were not even regulars when Pardew took over, and yet they have proved to be vital cogs this season. Taylor has signed a new deal, Williamson's importance was highlighted in a period when Newcastle did not have back-ups at the heart of their defence and Perch's recent form has been revelatory.

"We expect to win every game we play at the moment," Tioté added. "We are in a very confident mood throughout the team. We are not just about one player at the moment, we are about the whole of the squad doing well.

"We can't be worried about what the teams around us, like Tottenham and Chelsea, will do. If we win every game between now and the end of the season, it won't matter what the other teams do. There has been a long time where we have not seen Newcastle in European competitions and we want that to change. It will be a big thing for us to play in Europe next season. The first target is obviously the Europa League, but..."

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