ALAN Pardew says the Premier League finishing line is finally in sight – and he doesn’t care how Newcastle United cross it.
Pardew’s side dropped to 16th in the division after Saturday’s draw against West Brom – but the result also stretched the gap between the club and third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic, beaten by West Ham United, to six points.
And just one more win could be enough to secure Newcastle’s top-flight status for another season, with Liverpool next up at St James’s Park on Saturday.
A few weeks ago, Pardew had been looking for his team to break into the Premier League’s top-10. But top-flight survival is now his only aim, with the club’s domestic season having been blighted by problems, with the previous weekend’s 3-0 home humbling by Sunderland having been the final straw for some fans.
“All we need to do is get over the line,” Pardew admitted. “I don’t care if we finish one from bottom, I really don’t.”
While Pardew’s position has been questioned by many fans, he adamant he is the right man to lead the club.
Should Newcastle secure their Premier League place, Pardew is confident the team will be able to compete for a top-10 place next season.
“If we can get over the line, our fans know that we have a good group of players,” he added. “When everybody is fit, and we can get one or two new signings in there, we’re a top 10 team. There’s no doubt about that.”
Newcastle could have had Saturday’s game won by the break. But all they had to show for their dominance at the interval was Yohan Gouffran’s eighth-minute effort, which came after a neat pass from Yohan Cabaye and a good cross from Papiss Cisse.
The opening exchanges had been scrappy but Newcastle had already threatened when Mathieu Debuchy’s cross was cleared by Billy Jones.
Newcastle pressed for an immediate second and Cabaye shot narrowly over from distance.
Cabaye tested Ben Foster later with a well-struck low volley from outside the box, while Moussa Sissoko broke clear down the left but his pass back for Cisse was scrambled clear by Jonas Olsson.
Foster then dealt comfortably with a spectacular long-range effort from Cisse but he might have feared the worst as the striker seized on a poor pass by Olsson after 35 minutes.
Cisse clipped the ball over the keeper but his contact was too strong and a fine chance dipped just over the bar.
West Brom did manage to piece a good move together in the closing stages of the half but controversy followed as they were awarded a free-kick on right edge of the box.
James Perch was ruled to have felled Jones after the referee had consulted his assistant but replays suggested the tackle had been clean – and inside the box.
Neither side therefore got the verdict they wanted and it was probably just as well for the officials the hosts completely wasted the opportunity.
Despite that, West Brom were clearly encouraged and returned for the second half a team reinvigorated.
Within moments of the restart Marc-Antoine Fortune tested Rob Elliot for the first time with a long-range effort.
Elliot failed to grab the shot and was lucky to escape as substitute Shane Long seized possession but shot wide, while Lukaku gave the visitors another warning as he rose highest to head a Chris Brunt corner against the bar.
James Morrison shot wide as pressure continued to build and the hosts’ good work eventually paid off just after the hour.
Morrison and Lukaku combined well before the striker turned in the area and picked out Jones, who slid the ball beyond Elliot with a first-time shot.
The game almost turned on its head completely just two minutes later as an unmarked Morrison headed powerfully at goal from a Popov cross but Elliot saved well to his left, while Gareth McAuley won a header from another Brunt corner but failed to hit the target.
West Brom continued to come forward and Lukaku sent over a dangerous-looking cross for Long but the Republic of Ireland international was just unable to reach.
West Brom: Foster, Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov, Dorrans, Yacob (Long 46), Morrison, Brunt, Fortune (Rosenberg 90), Lukaku (Thomas 90). Subs not used: Myhill, Reid, Ridgewell, Roofe. Goals: Jones 64.
Newcastle: Elliot, Debuchy, Steven Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Haidara (Ben Arfa 77), Perch, Cabaye (Gosling 90), Gouffran (Ameobi 69), Sissoko, Gutierrez, Cisse. Subs not used: Harper, Williamson, Anita, Campbell. Booked: Cabaye, Sissoko. Goals: Gouffran 8.
Att: 25,671 Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).