Newcastle prepare to give Mancini's men hot reception
There is a scene in the original Rocky film in which Apollo Creed is sitting in an office, planning what he will wear for his walk to the ring to fight an unheard-of from Philadelphia.
On a small TV screen, Rocky Balboa is beating seven shades out of some hanging carcasses. Creed's trainer Tony is is transfixed. Creed is oblivious. It is hard to imagine Roberto Mancini being caught quite so unaware but last week in West London Newcastle smashed bones while in Mancester the Premier League title race was officially declared back on.
There is a potential world of pain waiting for Manchester City if they lose focus at St James' Park today. The intensity of Vincent Kompany in the Mancunian derby on Monday night suggests that is unlikely, but walking into Newcastle's lair represents a very different challenge to the tame effort of Manchester United against their rivals.
Tyneside is revving up to something approaching fever pitch. Newcastle need victory to keep pushing for what would be an extraordinary third-placed finish, and a city and a football club have unified in the desire to do so.
"We have kept resetting our goals, we have kept pushing ourselves and we have got players who are hungry," said Alan Pardew. "We have fed that hunger with different tactical plans and different agendas and we have had a training-ground philosophy where we won't accept a day off. That does happen at football clubs. I'm more experienced, I delegate better now. At Charlton, West Ham and Reading I would be more hands on. Sometimes you have to take yourself away and think about the game.
"The team gets tight, it gets loose, and you have to pull it back together. The two days after Wigan [when they lost 4-0] were probably the most important days we've had in the last 10 weeks. We had been on a roll. When you get beat you have to ask questions, and we did, and we came up with the right answers. Myself, the staff and the players all contributed into what went wrong and we corrected it. You can't do that at many groups, I tell you.
"You can still say things people don't like but it is about saying it in the right way. We said it in the right way and we did something about it. There is no way you can go from the Wigan result to the Chelsea result [where they won 2-0] unless you have had an analytical approach to what went wrong. We did that and got it right. Sometimes you can't do that. If the pack is a bit loose, sometimes you can't pull it back together. But when the pack is like this, when there is honesty in the room, you get honest answers.
"I could sit here all day and talk about the virtues of my players, but Yohan Cabaye is certainly a special player in terms of his mentality and the way he plays the game. He has been a massive asset to us.
"When you are playing against top quality technicians like [City] are, it is very important to show them respect and put cover on each other," added Pardew. "You have to expect to get beat as a defender, that James Perch is going to get beat by [David] Silva, that David Santon is going to get beat by [Sergio] Aguero, but there is somebody else there to help out. If we can do that and do it well enough, then we have a chance of getting a clean sheet.
"That has gone undetected with all the Papiss Cissé goals. We have got 15 clean sheets, that is the best ever for Newcastle in a 38-game season. That speaks volumes for the work-rate of this team.
"I know it is going to be electric on Sunday. I know Manchester City have got applauded for the atmosphere they have had this season. Well they ain't seen nothing yet. Of course I'm excited. My players are excited.
"The motivation for this game for me is that I don't have to do anything. What we have to get right is the call at half-time and the call on substitutes. That could be significant."
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