Pardew admits it's a grind for Toon
Alan Pardew has admitted Newcastle are grinding their way towards the end of a season which at one point threatened to deliver much, much more.
On Boxing Day, the Magpies defeated Stoke 5-1 at St James' Park to sit in sixth place in the Barclays Premier League table with 33 points from their opening 18 games, their best return at such a stage since the 2001-02 season, when they went on to finish fourth.
However, Yohan Cabaye's sale the following month and injuries to key men Tim Krul, Mathieu Debuchy and Loic Remy, as well as suspensions, have seen manager Pardew's men add just 13 more points to the total from their last 14 league fixtures, and they are now well adrift of the top six.
Pardew said: "The mid-season was really strong for us and the injuries to Loic and the transfer of Cabaye have impacted on our quality, there's no doubt about that.
"We are grinding towards the end unfortunately, and that's not what we want. We want to be a lot more easy on the eye, and lot more fluent in what we are doing than we are.
"But we have become a very functional team now, and that's what has really got to get us through until such time as Loic is back and Mathieu is back and Tim is back."
The cost to Newcastle of losing their most influential figures was graphically illustrated at Southampton last Saturday when the home side took full advantage and claimed a 4-0 success. Newcastle's display was later labelled "not acceptable" by Pardew.
It promises to be no easier on Saturday when Manchester United head for Tyneside, intent on revenge for the 1-0 defeat they suffered at Old Trafford at the hands of the Magpies on December 7, and buoyed by a creditable 1-1 Champions League draw with Bayern Munich in midweek.
At the same time as Pardew's men were being mauled at St Mary's, Norwich found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline at Swansea which this week prompted the Canaries players to offer to reimburse fans who travelled to witness the debacle.
But asked if his players might consider doing the same, the Newcastle boss said: "I have been in many games where you have long, long trips and had very, very difficult afternoons.
"As far as I am concerned, our fans are the best in the world and to give them that performance wasn't acceptable and we aim to put it right on the pitch.
"I am just urging my players to put in a better performance than they did on Saturday, that's the most important thing to me.
"You get disappointments in the Premier League, and we have had them before.
"The matter is very, very simple: we need a reaction to that performance in terms of energy levels, continuity in the team and a desire to win the game.
"Desire is all in the Premier League."
Pardew's task will not be helped by midfielder Moussa Sissoko's absence with a hamstring strain, which means five of the men who started at Manchester United in December - Krul, Debuchy, Cabaye, Sissoko and Remy - will not line up against them this weekend.
But the Newcastle manager is keen to remind those who do face the Red Devils that the chance to atone for the Southampton loss should drive them on.
Pardew said: "That is the beauty of professional football: there is always an opportunity around the corner.
"If we were a boxer and that was our last fight, we might have had to sit on that performance for six months, so in some ways we are lucky and hopefully we can capitalise on that with a good performance."