Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, yesterday called for his players to grasp the chance to play in Europe next season, after revealing the side's current success is a year ahead of schedule. The Magpies are level on points with Chelsea in the Premier League, narrowly behind the Blues on goal difference, and a spot in the Europa League is up for grabs.
Pardew praised the application of his players for the success of the club this season and admits he is firmly focused on bringing European football back to the north-east ahead of tomorrow's game with Swansea.
"We're a year ahead of schedule," Pardew said. "I didn't expect us to be as close as we are to those [European] spots but we're going to take the chance in front of us if we can. That's football – it doesn't often put an opportunity in front of you and you've got to grasp it.
"I keep saying to the players that you've got an opportunity so grasp it with both hands and that's what we're going to do hopefully in the remaining games.
"We are ahead of schedule only because of the players and the application they've had. They're absolutely brilliant. They're a fantastic set of players and there's a fantastic camaraderie between them.
"We've given them a tactical base but we're not based around one system we've got two or three systems that we can turn to and the players bind to anything that we put in front of them which is fantastic.
"It doesn't happen often at a football club so I'm very privileged to be working for these players."
Unlike some managers who view the Europa League as an unwelcome addition to an already packed schedule - especially at the start of the season - the Newcastle manager is relishing the chance of stepping up to the challenge. "The format [of the Europa League] actually works against Premier League teams because of the nature of our division," he said. "The intensity you have to have to play in a Premier League game, in some of the other leagues, the Europa League isn't so much of an issue as every game isn't as fully committed as ours.
"It's harder for the Premier League teams but that's not to say we wouldn't accept that challenge. We really hope for our fans more than anything that we get European football for them."
Pardew is looking for his side to extend their three-game winning run when they travel to the Liberty Stadium tomorrow. Newcastle have notched up wins over Norwich, West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool in their last three league games, and Pardew believes his side are still getting better.
"We've had our fair share [of plaudits]," he said. "We're having a season that's outstanding and we're going to continue that if we can.I said all along that if we can get to this last period of games in the frame for Europe then we'll give it a go and that's what we're going to do."