KEVIN Nolan has challenged his Newcastle United team-mates to end the season on a high – and finish above rivals Sunderland.
Newcastle take on Birmingham City at St James’s Park while level on points with Steve Bruce’s side.
United have a surperior goal difference and ending the season as the North East’s top team is a target for Nolan and his colleagues, who are all but safe from the threat of relegation from the Premier League.
Sunderland’s form, meanwhile, has dipped in recent months, Bruce’s squad having been badly hit by injuries.
However, Nolan can’t help but feel they should be higher up the table given the tens of millions of pounds spent by owner Ellis Short on players and wages and during Bruce’s time in charge.
As such, Nolan – who said finishing 17th this season would be a success before a ball was kicked – feels Newcastle are already punching above their weight, given the size of Alan Pardew’s squad, which will need signifcant strengthening in the summer.
Asked if finishing above Sunderland was a goal, Nolan, right, said: “That would be nice, but we’ve got to look at it in perspective.
“They’ve gone out and spent millions and millions of pounds. If we’d have the chance to do that and bring players in, we’d have been a bit higher than we are.
“Then you see (Steve Bruce) saying he’s got to buy seven players in the summer.
“That’s a target, if you like, which we can get in our armoury to make sure we finish the season strongly. It’s something we can work on. I don’t see why not.”
Pardew’s players were applauded off the pitch at Anfield last Sunday after a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Liverpool.
And captain Nolan is hopeful United can put that defeat behind them when they take on the Carling Cup winners on home turf.
“The fans are brilliant, I always speak so highly of them,” Nolan went on. “They’ve been like that all season.
“That’s the way they are. People (at Liverpool) were just saying to me they were fantastic. I genuinely believe they’re the best in the country – there’s no one to beat them home and away.
“They’ve been with us through thick and thin and hopefully we can give them a couple of home games and get some points on the board.
“We don’t really want this season to peter out. We want to finish strongly and get the momentum for next season.”
Birmingham, beaten 2-0 by Newcastle at St Andrew’s in February thanks to goals from Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best, lie two points behind United in the table, their situation still slightly precarious.
Nolan added: “They’re going to come out fighting and scrapping for everything. It’ll be tough – we know that.
“We’ve got to play like we have been at St James’s. We were fantastic in the last game against Manchester United (a goalless draw). If we do what we did there, we’ll be okay.”