Magpies get job done one way or other


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The Independent Football

The Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew, hopes the versatility of his players will help see them through a potentially thrilling conclusion to the Premier League campaign.

Pardew has been forced to make do and mend in recent weeks, with the winger Jonas Gutierrez lining up at left-back in the 1-0 league win over Norwich City the weekend before last, a game in which Yohan Cabaye played in four different positions and full-back James Perch started in midfield.

It was Perch who was asked to fill on at left-back for Sunday's 3-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion, although he ended the game at centre-half after Fabricio Coloccini's premature departure with a hamstring injury, and seems likely to have to play there again on Sunday when Liverpool head for Tyneside in what could be a key encounter in the race for a top six finish.

Many of the changes have been forced on the manager, but some of them have been tactical, and he is delighted to have that flexibility within a relatively small squad.

Pardew said yesterday: "You have to remember that when you have had success, teams are going to come and nullify you and start working on ways to beat you, and you have got to keep asking different questions. Yohan Cabaye and Jonas had different roles last week, and they could have different roles again.

"But their application and attitude to them has been first-class, and that's why Jonas at left-back got man of the match against Norwich, because he attacked the job that was at hand. If my players do that and take that as a lesson, then we are going to be OK."

The Magpies were more than OK at The Hawthorns as they produced their best 45 minutes of football for some time to blow Albion away before the break. Hatem Ben Arfa's brilliance, the finishing prowess of Papiss Cissé and the way in which the pair combined with the Senegal international's strike partner Demba Ba were simply too much for West Bromwich and allowed Newcastle to strengthen their grip on sixth place.

They will head into the Liverpool game eight points better off than the visitors, their closest pursuers with eight games to play, knowing they are in the driving seat.

However, a still taxing run-in, during which the title hopefuls Manchester City will visit St James' Park, while Pardew's men have to go to Swansea City, Chelsea and Everton, means they can take nothing for granted.

The fact that the influential Coloccini could miss up to half of those games is a major concern, although the midfielder Cheick Tioté's impending return from a hamstring injury will provide a boost. Tioté missed the victories over Norwich and West Bromwich, but saw Danny Guthrie deputise well once again, and while Pardew will be delighted to have the Ivory Coast international back, he is equally pleased that his side has shown it can cope without one of its key players.

"We have won without Cheick for the last two weekends, and we won without him when he was away at the African Nations Cup," Pardew said. "Actually, since he has come back, we haven't had great results with Cheick. I am not saying that as a negative because he is a massive player for us, but we can cope without him."