Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is confident his French contingent can cope with the gruelling demands of an English Christmas programme.
Twelve months ago, the Magpies headed into the holiday period teetering on the brink of disaster having won just two out of 12 games in all competitions since the beginning of November, including successive Barclays Premier League defeats by West Ham, Swansea, Southampton and Stoke.
That prompted owner Mike Ashley to make a significant splash in the January transfer window to recruit Mathieu Debuchy, Massadio Haidara, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran.
The Magpies avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth but have pushed on since, and this year approach Christmas having won six of the eight matches they have played during the corresponding period, with the imports from France taking key roles.
Ahead of their clash with Stoke on St Stephen’s Day, Pardew said: “They have not really been through those horrible months that we had last year, November and December, so it’s new to them.
“But I think they will cope. They look really strong at the minute. We have really worked hard on our fitness levels and therefore, I think we will be okay.”
Debuchy, Sissoko and Gouffran in particular have become central figures in Newcastle’s resurgence, which continued apace with Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace.
It is a measure of the influence Pardew’s Frenchmen are having on performances that strikes from Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa, either side of Danny Gabbidon’s own goal, extended their stranglehold on the club’s scoring stakes. They and their compatriots have now contributed 22 of the club’s 24 Premier League goals this season.
Only Gabbidon and the Magpies’ own Welsh defender Paul Dummett have interrupted that streak, with the latter scoring as a substitute in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool on October 19.
Despite so many free-scoring Frenchman in the Newcastle ranks, Mark Hughes believes the trip to St James’ Park should hold no fears for his Stoke City side.
The Potters have lost just once in their last eight Premier League outings and moved up to 10th in the table with Saturday’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Hughes said: “Newcastle are a decent side who are playing well and winning games at the moment. They are in good shape but so are we.
“If we were to go there lacking in confidence there’s every possibility we would come unstuck but our confidence is high. If ever there was a good time to go there, for us, it’s probably now.”
Stephen Ireland will return to the squad for the Newcastle game. The on-loan midfielder was ineligible for the visit of his parent club Villa.
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