Pardew: We're still a striker light
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has admitted his squad is a striker short despite the efforts of summer signing Ayoze Perez to plug the gap.
Pardew, who lost loan signings Loic Remy and Luuk de Jong as well as the out-of-contract Shola Ameobi during the close season, welcomed Spaniard Perez and Frenchman Emmanuel Riviere into the fold in their wake.
But with Papiss Cisse struggling to recover full fitness and Riviere having endured a tough start to his career in England, it has been Perez who has caught the eye with four goals and a series of impressive individual performances.
Asked if the 21-year-old former Tenerife player had taken him by surprise, Pardew said: "I think if you said at the start of the year he would be in this position, I would have said that was unlikely.
"His physical improvement has been immense. He was already technically accomplished, which was obvious when he arrived, but his physical attributes and mentality in games have improved massively.
"He enjoys playing against top opposition as much as lesser opposition, and that bodes well. We have been absolutely reliant on him in a lot of ways.
"I said at the start of the year we were a striker light and we really needed someone to come through and help us out - and he's done that. I'm not talking about the transfer window, but we need another striker if we can get one."
Perez is hardly the most physically imposing striker to pull on a Newcastle shirt, but he has come to terms with the rough and tumble of English football far more quickly that some of the other new arrivals, and carried the main threat during Sunday's 1-0 derby defeat by Sunderland.
Pardew, whose team play Manchester United on Boxing Day, said of Perez: "Don't get me wrong, I don't want him to be a big brute of a player. He's never going to be that, but there is a strength in holding players off the ball and it's something Remy Cabella needs to gain.
"When he (Perez) first arrived, he looked too light in training and was knocked off the ball far too easily. He didn't hold his own in tight areas. But now he does in training and in matches.
"He's not going to grow much bigger and I don't want him to. That wiry strength is a big part of his game.
"He did a couple of tricks on Sunday that I don't think anybody else on the pitch could have produced. His feet are so fast. He's been a real asset.
"He's not a natural goalscorer, more a natural forward. He can do the other side of the game, a bit like Wayne Rooney. He can mix it in the midfield and score goals."
If Perez's contributions to date have been a bonus for Pardew, they have not entirely made up for the loss of attacking midfielder Siem de Jong. De Jong was the man signed belatedly to fill the boots of Yohan Cabaye, who moved on to Paris St Germain at the start of the year.
The 25-year-old Holland international has managed only three appearances for the club since his £6million arrival from Ajax in July and has spent almost four months recovering from a torn thigh muscle.
He is unlikely to play any part in the holiday programme, but his presence on the training pitch in recent weeks has given his manager a major boost.
Pardew said: "I looked at him with adoring eyes this morning because those games with packed defence, with him and Perez in the same team we'll unlock anyone at any level, so it's important he returns in good health.
"Moussa [Sissoko] can play that number 10 role, and it's such an important role in the Premier League. It's massively important. It's a position that can dictate the game.
"Cabaye used to do it for us. Cabaye dictates the game from number 10, Moussa can impact the game. Siem is more like Cabaye and will help us control games."