Pardew feeling show of strength
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is confident he has assembled his strongest squad yet after seeing the Magpies climb into the Barclays Premier League's top five.
A 2-1 home victory over West Brom, the Tyneside club's fourth on the trot, took them to 23 points from their opening 13 league games, nine more than they had collected by the same point last season.
A delighted Pardew said: "I sensed before the game that the group is very, very strong. There's a really good feeling in there.
"Everybody is fit and available, so your Yohan Cabayes and Colos (Fabricio Coloccinis) can look around that dressing room and see quality, and quality not even involved today - Steven Taylor didn't even make the bench today.
"We have got a strength in depth that we didn't have even when we finished fifth two years ago.
"But certainly the fact that we are not playing Europa League and we are getting that extra work on the training ground is definitely showing."
Newcastle took the lead nine minutes before the break from a corner, when keeper Boaz Myhill punched Yohan Cabaye's cross straight up into the air and Yoan Gouffran reacted first to head the rebound into the empty net.
But the visitors were level within eight minutes of the restart when Chris Brunt picked up possession beyond the far post and smashed the ball past Tim Krul and in off the underside of the bar.
It took a strike of equal, if not better, quality to win the game four minutes later when Moussa Sissoko rifled a 27-yard effort high into the top corner to claim the points.
Gouffran and Sissoko's respective contributions mean 18 of Newcastle's last 19 league goals have been scored by Frenchmen, a statistic bettered in Europe's five biggest leagues only by Lyon.
Pardew said: "There's a good chance I could win French Manager of the Year. It's something I have got my eye on.
"A lot of offensive players happen to be French, so that would fit in with them scoring most of the goals.
"When they arrived in January, certainly the four who are prominent at the moment - Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa - there were question marks about their commitment, their mental strength for this division and their physical strength, and they did struggle a little bit.
"But they have overcome that now, and Yohan's interview this week was very, very good when he said that the France national side is benefiting from his new capability of coping with the energy in this division.
"In Ligue 1 in France, it isn't as high-impact and as high-energy as the Premier League. These guys are benefiting from it and I can understand why the French manager is looking at our players, because they are playing at a higher level, there's no doubt about that."
The Magpies will now head into Wednesday's trip to Swansea confident of extending their winning streak, while the Baggies entertain Manchester City looking for reward for their recent good form.
Manager Steve Clarke, who saw his side push Newcastle all the way, said: "Everybody who is fair-minded about the game would say we should have got something from it.
"But we didn't, so we have to get ourselves prepared for Manchester City on Wednesday night and start getting some points on the board.
"Listen, I have got a good team, I have got a good group of players. They are always committed, they always give 100 per cent.
"It was a strange first half - I thought it was a little bit subdued, both teams cancelling each other out, two teams on a similar level, I think, although looking at the league table, you wouldn't think that because Newcastle are obviously much higher.
"They have had a great run, they have put the points on the board that maybe our performances merited. But in this league, you have to make sure you get the points.
"It's not the performances, you need the points."