Newcastle manager Alan Pardew targeting third place in Premier League


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The Independent Football

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is targeting a third-place Barclays Premier League finish as he attempts to fulfil Mike Ashley's unlikely European dream.

The Magpies will tackle relegation-threatened Wigan at the DW Stadium tomorrow looking for a seventh successive league victory, a run which has seen them climb into fourth and to within three points of Arsenal with a game in hand.

While the odds remain against Pardew's men ending a remarkable campaign as the closest challengers to top two Manchester United and Manchester City - they still have to go to Chelsea and face Roberto Mancini's team on Tyneside - they remain genuine candidates for Champions League qualification.

That was simply not on the agenda at the beginning of the season, and while they could yet finish fourth and miss out should Chelsea win next month's Champions League final, the manager is aiming as high as he possibly can with the full back of owner Ashley.

Pardew said: "Mike is very determined that we push as hard as we can for the Champions League, and we are going to try to do that for him because he has been very supportive to us this year.

"We are just trying to win every game. We know we have got a difficult run - on paper, you could say more difficult than the other contenders - but the teams have still got to beat us and we are in pretty good form.

"But we have got a possibility of finishing third, so that's what we are going to try to do."

The prospect of breaking into the top four and yet not making the Champions League is not one which unduly concerns Pardew, but he admits like his counterparts at Arsenal and Tottenham, he will been keeping one eye on a scenario which leaves him with mixed emotions.

He said: "I am kind of split because obviously you want English teams to do well, and Chelsea winning the Champions League would be fantastic.

"But it would take a place away and that's something we will have to keep an eye on. But they are the rules and we will just get on with it."

A comprehensive 3-0 victory over Stoke last Saturday eased the Magpies three points clear of fifth-placed Spurs and four ahead of Chelsea, and that is a situation Pardew simply could not have envisaged until very recently.

He said: "That's good, I had never thought about that."

Understandably, a once mutinous Toon Army is revelling in the club's return to prominence after a disastrous decline, but impressive subsequent rise under the controversial Ashley's tenure.

The Magpies announced yesterday they are to unveil a new statue to former manager Sir Bobby Robson at the stadium before the end of the season, a move which has been well received by fans who have railed against an apparent fracture between the hierarchy and its customers in recent years.

The repair job accomplished on the field has been founded on sound management off it, and while the decision to re-name St James' Park as the Sports Direct Arena continues to excite passions in the city, peace appears to have broken out, at least for now.

Pardew, of course, was swiftly denounced as just another member of the so-called "Cockney Mafia" when he was handed the reins in the wake of the untimely departure of Chris Hughton, the man who had dragged Newcastle from the depths of despair back into the promised land.

However, it is a measure of the job he has done since that he is now serenaded from the stands.

He said: "It's great because it's nice to have the respect of a crowd base that knows its football.

"The north-east knows its football and it wants it to be played in the right manner, so to have your name sung means you are ticking some boxes on that side.

"That's all I have done, and hopefully that will continue."

Asked if he feels he has yet attained the status of adopted Geordie, Pardew replied with a smile: "Yes. Even the driving wind and the rain doesn't seem to affect me. It just bounces off me these days."