Champions League a distraction for Newcastle says Alan Pardew
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has admitted his players might have had one eye on the Champions League as their chances of getting there were dealt a major blow.
The Magpies head for Chelsea tomorrow night having slipped out of the top four as a result of their 4-0 drubbing at Wigan on Saturday, a result which allowed Tottenham to climb back above them on goal difference and the Blues to close the gap to a single point.
With three games left to play, Pardew's men could yet finish anywhere between third and sixth in the Barclays Premier League, and that means the prospect of Champions League football returning to St James' Park remains alive, if less likely than it was on Saturday morning.
In that respect, tomorrow night's game could be regarded as a dress rehearsal for the type of fixture that might lie ahead.
Pardew said: "Absolutely, and that's how we should approach it. Our players, perhaps you could argue, might have had one eye on it, I don't know.
"But we certainly didn't turn up in the first half at Wigan, and I am pretty sure we will have a different mentality on Wednesday night.
"There's no expectation on us, but there is pride because we hurt our pride on Saturday and we are all hurting a little bit."
If Newcastle are to secure one of the top four places, they are going to have to do it the hard way with new leaders Manchester City due on Tyneside on Sunday in the wake of last night's derby victory over Manchester United, and a trip to in-from Everton bringing down the curtain on a remarkable campaign.
Chelsea are unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions, including their two-legged Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona, City have lost just one of their past nine games and Everton's only defeat in eight came in the FA Cup semi-final at the hands of arch-rivals Liverpool.
However, the reverse at the DW Stadium ended a run of six successive league victories for the Magpies, and while Pardew knows exactly how difficult the final three fixtures are going to be, he is determined his team will finish the season doing what they have done for much of it to date.
He said: "The last three games are going to be about our season in terms of making sure we finish strongly.
"I am not bothered if we lose all three, if I am honest, but the performances have to be right because we are playing three good teams and two away games in there.
"The performances need to be right. It wasn't on Saturday, and that's unlike us.
"But of the last seven games, we have won six, and that's what we have got to lean on.
"This team doesn't need to measure itself against anybody, we have proven that all year.
"But these are big games and we want to perform well in them for our fans. We want to give our fans an end to the season that makes them proud, because we have done absolutely brilliantly."
Pardew will go head-to-head with Roberto di Matteo, the man who in his role as caretaker boss has revived Chelsea's season in spectacular fashion.
The Italian, of course, also has the finals of both the FA Cup and Champions League on his mind, although his opposite number tomorrow night believes the decisions he has to make could be more difficult.
He said with a smile: "The one thing I do know is he has the luxury of picking from 22 internationals, and every one of them a good one, so it isn't that tough."
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