Pardew has eyes on Champions League spot

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew firmly believes qualifying for the Champions League this season would eclipse even Bobby Robson’s feat.

Robson dragged the Magpies from 11th at the end of the 2000-01 campaign into fourth place 12 months later and, having safely negotiated a way past Bosnian outfit FK Zeljeznicar in the qualifiers, guided them into the second group stage of the competition.

That proved to be the club’s last flirtation with Europe’s elite after they lost on penalties to Partizan Belgrade in the final qualifying round the following season, having finished third.

However, with five games remaining this time around, Pardew’s unlikely lads are level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham and could yet rub shoulders with the big boys once again.

Robson, of course, was able to call upon the likes of Alan Shearer, Shay Given, Rob Lee and Gary Speed as he strode towards the Champions League.

It is a measure of how far the Magpies have come in recent times that two years ago this week, they were celebrating lifting the Championship title having earlier secured their return to the top flight following a hugely embarrassing relegation.

For that reason, Pardew is confident a top-four repeat 11 years on would be even more remarkable. He said: “You are going from a different set of circumstances there, with all due respect to Sir Bobby Robson. He had some fantastic players and players who were Premier League icons. We have got a lot of new players who are making a little niche for themselves. It’s a different kind of scenario. I am not under-estimating that achievement but if we get in there, it would be astonishing.”

The recovery process was started, almost by default, by Chris Hughton after he was asked to take up the reins in the summer of 2009, but has gathered pace under his successor.

Pardew’s men head into today’s home clash with Stoke knowing a sixth successive victory could ensure a top-six finish and a return to some form of European action, but it is the enticing possibility of Champions League football which is currently occupying minds on Tyneside. Asked where that would rank in his own curriculum vitae, the manager said: “Of course, it would be far and away the most significant thing I have done as a manager.”

Europe would necessitate greater strength in depth and while plans are already in place, the recruitment process cannot begin in earnest until Newcastle know what demands will be placed upon their players next season.

Pardew “It’s very difficult with where we are. We are guessing we won’t be in the Champions League and we are working to that budget really — but there is a Champions League budget if we feel we are going to threaten it with maybe two games to go.”

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