TOP-FOUR PUSH SHOCKS PARDEW
Alan Pardew has insisted Newcastle should be nowhere near competing for Champions League qualification.
The Magpies will secure a top-six Barclays Premier League finish and almost certainly earn a return to European football if they better seventh-placed Everton's result this weekend.
But as they welcome Stoke to Tyneside on Saturday a day before the Toffees head for title-chasing Manchester United, Pardew knows his fifth-placed side has punched above its weight all season and continues to do so, with a top-four finish a real possibility.
He said: "A successful season for us would be Europe, there's no doubt about that. Any European qualification would be brilliant.
"The Champions League is something that really we shouldn't be competing for, but we are, and we are going to go for that as best we can.
"We are batting well above our level in terms of the teams and the salaries and transfer fees that these other clubs have paid. We shouldn't even be anywhere near them."
Newcastle head into the latest round of fixtures sitting level on points with Tottenham in fourth place and two better off than Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea.
The Blues' 1-0 first-leg victory over the mighty Barcelona on Wednesday night left them with a foothold in the tie as they attempt to overturn the odds and reach the final - and if they were to lift the trophy and finish outside the top four, that would have major ramifications for the teams ahead of them.
In that scenario, only the top three places would yield either an automatic spot or a Champions League qualifier, with the prize for fourth a ticket for the Europa League.
Chelsea are already guaranteed at least a place in the lower-ranking competition because FA Cup final opponents Liverpool have already qualified by winning the Carling Cup - but should they win the domestic competition rather than the Champions League, and finish in the top five, that place would also be up for grabs.
Pardew admits the range of possible outcomes is somewhat bewildering.
He said with a smile: "What I do know is this European qualification is about as complicated as it gets.
"We need Carol Vorderman to work this one out."
Newcastle at least have momentum on their side having won each of their last five league games, and with in-form Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton waiting in the wings, they know extending that to six could be crucial to their hopes.
However, Pardew is confident his players will neither be carried away nor over-burdened by the challenge ahead of them.
He said: "Players, like fans, are not stupid, they know if they have got a chance. Our fans are sensing that we have got a chance, and so are our players.
"But we have still got to be able to produce it on game-day, and game-day is what it is all about at this level.
"You get complacent or get nervous or get edgy, like a couple of the other sides.
"They have got a bit edgy - we haven't shown any signs of that and hopefully we won't.
"Perhaps expectation is not really too great on us. If you asked any of these on-line betting agencies who is the least favourite, we are probably it, and that's probably right."
Pardew has been boosted too by the return of a series of players to training after injury, with Cheick Tiote, Danny Guthrie and James Perch all having shaken off knocks and been joined by longer-term absentees Gabriel Obertan, Leon Best and Sylvain Marveaux.
Keeper Tim Krul did not train today after jarring his back earlier in the week, but he is expected to be available.
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