Newcastle United are still crawling their way to Premier League safety but for Alan Pardew, there is already one simple, three-word riposte to any criticism of a dismal domestic campaign: the Europa League. For Pardew, last year's reward for finishing fifth proved a decidedly mixed blessing, and after his team slipped two places to 16th – and below Sunderland – on Saturday, he spoke once again about the demands of a competition which added 14 matches to their calendar and, in his view, stretched his squad to breaking point.
"This was our 50th game today, which goes a little bit unnoticed," said the Newcastle manager, who was missing a handful of first-teamers at the Hawthorns. "With all the travelling involved as well, that's tough. Clubs will look at us and the impact it can have, because it's not only the extra games but the injuries we've had on the back of that. There's no doubt that our league position would be greater [without it]."
A fight against relegation was certainly not on the agenda when Pardew signed that remarkable eight-year contract last September and cynics might say he is getting his excuses in early in case the unthinkable happens, yet he added: "We've had to pay a heavy penalty on the Sundays, not just for Sunderland but for previous games. Swansea are going to find that next year – it's difficult, unless you really increase the size of your squad."
Pardew is not alone in citing the strains of Thursday-Sunday football, yet Newcastle did add five players to their squad in January – one of whom, left-back Massadio Haidara, made his full league debut here – and played only two games in the domestic cup competitions. Moreover, his critics will point to a season without a goal from a corner and an away record that is the second worst in the division, with just nine points from 17 matches.
In this context, Pardew described the point gleaned from Saturday's 1-1 draw with West Brom as "gold dust", though it might have been three had Newcastle taken their chances in a one-sided first half. Instead their dominance yielded a single Yoan Gouffran strike and they were pegged back in the second period when Albion, with a switch to a front three, responded with Billy Jones' first goal for the club. Ironically, given Pardew's complaints, his counterpart Steve Clarke felt his own side's lack of games – this was only their third in 35 days – explained their slow start.
On paper, the threat of the drop remains slight for Newcastle yet while six points separate them from third-bottom Wigan, the Lancashire club have a game in hand and Pardew is taking nothing for granted given trips to West Ham and QPR remain, bookended by home games with Liverpool and Arsenal.
"Not even a win against Liverpool would make us safe," he warned. "We're still fighting for our lives. We've got to fight like that for the remaining four. I'm not being confident, and I'm certainly not being arrogant about it. We've still got work to do."