Pardew looks for strong finish
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is hoping his big players can serve up a rousing end to the season after the nerves returned to Tyneside.
The Magpies looked home and hosed in the quest to book their place in next season's Barclays Premier League when a 2-0 win at Birmingham on February 15 took them to 35 points with 11 games still to play. But successive home fixtures against Bolton and Everton have yielded just a single point, and Pardew's men are just six points clear of the drop zone.
Pardew said: "We have got some outstanding players at this football club and one or two did themselves no harm on Saturday in the squad for going forward. But we are going to need our best players for these last nine games to try to finish as high as we can, and that's what we are going to do."
The manager was unable to call upon Joey Barton or Stephen Ireland in the 2-1 loss to Everton, used Shola Ameobi only as a substitute on his return from a fractured cheekbone and lost full-back Jose Enrique to a hamstring injury before the break, and that combination of misfortunes proved costly.
He continued: "You can't play a game at this level and lose the quality of players we did - Joey Barton, then we lost Ireland, then Enrique on the pitch.
"For all the effort and commitment we put in, sometimes that's just too many players to lose."
Newcastle actually took the lead, if slightly against the run of play, when Leon Best stooped to head home his sixth goal of the season after keeper Tim Howard could only parry Kevin Nolan's well-struck shot.
But the warning signs were already there with Steve Harper having had to turn a Mikel Arteta shot over the bar, and as the Spaniard started to dictate from a wide left position, the visitors assumed control.
It was he who accepted Leon Osman's 31st-minute ball and then returned it with interest for the midfielder to side-foot into the bottom corner, and when Phil Jagielka was allowed to meet Leighton Baines' free-kick unopposed five minutes later to fire home off the underside of the crossbar, what little momentum the Magpies had established was gone.
To their credit, the home side never gave up, but although Best had a 78th-minute header ruled out for a push on Jagielka, harshly in Pardew's opinion, Everton held out reasonably comfortably.