Harper used to ups and downs

01 April 2011 11:09
IF there is one thing Steve Harper has become familiar with during 18 years at St James' Park, it is that Newcastle United are seemingly always on the verge of a crisis.

However, while there are just four points separating the Magpies from a place in the bottom three ahead of a crucial fixture with third from bottom Wolves, Harper still prefers to look up the Premier League table.

Defeat to Wolves on Tyneside could set the alarm bells ringing again among the club's supporters after a run of just one win from their last nine league games.

With Newcastle as close to the top eight as to the bottom three, Harper has come to expect such occasions at Newcastle, where he has been involved in constant peaks and troughs since signing from Seaham Red Star in 1993.

"I can't explain the rollercoaster," said Harper. "It's just 'is the glass half full or half empty' scenario. If you'd said at the start of the season after 30 games you'd have 36 points and be in 11th, probably the majority of fans would snap your hands off.

"The fact is we've lost the last couple of games and the negativity creeps in. I'm sure it's the same at any football club but negativity spreads like wildfire.

"To counteract that you need to get results and that's what we need to do. We need to start well and get the fans right behind us and let them see we're prepared to match Wolves' work ethic and get a result.

"There's not enough middle ground at this club. It's either we're qualifying for Europe or we're getting relegated. People don't seem to understand how tough the Premier League will be."

After two successive defeats to Stoke and Everton, Alan Pardew is keen to stress that Newcastle are still on course for a respectable finish in their first season back in the top-flight.

Harper is satisfied that can be achieved, although he does accept that, with just eight points separating the bottom 12 teams, anything can happen before May.

"You'd have to say that, judging by the records so far and the points they have on the board. The table doesn't lie and after 38 games it tells a story," he said. "After 30 games it's very close in that bottom half. If we can win on Saturday, if two or three of the bottom three win, then it might only be the top eight that's safe. People are saying we're on that borderline and if we don't win this one we might drop a place or two or three but if we do win, some of the others might be dragged in."

Now Joey Barton has been passed fit to play it will also be his reunion with the team that targeted him for special treatment during the 1-1 draw at Wolves back in August.

The meeting at Molineux ended with 12 bookings, seven of which were for tackles on Barton, and the Newcastle midfielder was quick to complain about the attention he received from the opposition.

There is likely to be more of the same from Mick McCarthy's men and Harper feels Newcastle are going to have to be ready to mix it in a similar way.

"Joey's attitude was magnificent at Wolves that day. It was first class and we hope he proves to Wolves what a good player he is," said Harper. "I broke my nose after half an hour on the back of James Perch's head in that game.

"Wolves will be trying to leave with three points to put them right on our shoulder.

"It becomes bigger because we've lost the last two games. We knew when we came up from the Championship there would be difficult times in this league.

"When you've lost two games and when you've only had those two games spread out over the course of four or five weeks, it's very difficult."

While there were accusations flying around in the aftermath of the two teams' first meeting of the season, Harper still has enormous respect for the way former Sunderland manager McCarthy's team plays.

"I like the way Wolves play," said the 36-year-old. "They work their socks off.

"We've watched their last game against Aston Villa and to see 11 people working like that for each other, it's what you need to stay in this division.

"I'm sure Mick McCarthy demands that as a minimum from his players."

Source: Northern_Echo

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