NEWCASTLE United have started the New Year on the front foot in the Premier League – and Steve Harper is confident they can stay there.
Harper and his team-mates go into next Wednesday’s game at Fulham on the back of a four-game unbeaten run.
And having taken 30 points from their first 23 games, Newcastle are close to securing top-flight football for another season at St James’s Park.
Already, they are just four points off the points haul of the relegation campaign the season before last.
However, while United’s fans are looking upwards to the European places, with Alan Pardew’s side lying ninth in the table, goalkeeper Harper insists the club’s players are still focused on those teams below them.
And the first – and last – objective remains Premier League safety.
“Nobody’s setting any targets of 34 points, or anything like that,” Harper said. “It’s an old cliché, but we’re just churning out games, and trying to put points on the board.
“As long as we keep that, the better. It’s been a good start to 2011 – four games unbeaten – and if we can keep that run going through Fulham away and Arsenal at home it’ll put us in good stead.
“We just have to keep churning it out. If there’s a gap appearing, let’s keep it there, and make it bigger.
“That’s what we have to keep doing. If we can stay up, and stay up comfortably, it’ll be a fantastic achievement.
“There’s still a long, long way to go.
“The fans want us to finish above Sunderland, but our first priority at the start of the season was to stay up.
“Once we’ve achieved that, and if we do it with several fixtures to go, we’ll set ourselves another target.
“No one’s getting carried away in that dressing room.”
Newcastle would have four points points to their name had it not been for the injury-time goals conceded against Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland.
While frustrated, Easington-born Harper is quick to to those setbacks in perspective.
The 35-year-old went on: “It was a disappointed dressing room for the second week in a row, but we can’t turn back time, and we’ve got to look forward now.
“It’s still fantastic to have 30 points at this stage of the season.
“You can bang your head against the walls and look at the games we have dropped points, not just the last two games, but over the course of the season so far and wonder. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“We have a couple of tough games coming up against Fulham and Arsenal, and maybe by then we will have a couple of bodies in. They could help out what is a small squad.”
H BEN Sayer sent Newcastle United into the next round of the FA Youth Cup – then admitted his winning goal was a fluke!
The midfielder capped a man of the match display with an injury-time goal to give the club’s Under-18s a 2-1 fourth-round win over Grimsby Town at St James’s Park last night.
And they will face Manchester United away in the next stage of the competition.