Newcastle V Fulham at St James' Park : Match Preview
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Pardew underlines significance of success
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew sees it as vital that his team get back to winning ways in Sunday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Fulham.
The Magpies go into the contest off the back of Thursday night's 3-1 Europa League quarter-final first-leg defeat at Benfica - their third successive loss, after they were beaten 4-0 at Manchester City and 2-1 at Wigan before that in the league.
Those top-flight reverses have left the Tyneside outfit just three points clear of the relegation zone.
And Pardew is in no doubt about the importance of Newcastle making the most of their return to St James' Park on Sunday - both in terms of their league position, and with a view to the second leg against Benfica which follows on Thursday.
"The Fulham game is an important one for us, there is no doubt about that," Pardew - whose side complete a hat-trick of home fixtures by hosting derby rivals Sunderland after the Benfica return leg - told Press Association Sport.
"We want to set ourselves up for Thursday - probably to do that, we are going to need to win."
Although Newcastle have had to travel to Portugal and back this week, recent evidence would suggest that fatigue within the camp is not something Pardew needs to worry too much about.
In February, the Magpies beat Southampton 4-2 on the Sunday that immediately followed their Thursday night Europa League last-32 clash with Metalist Kharkiv in Ukraine.
And last month they repeated the trick, defeating Stoke 2-1 three days after playing in Russia against Anzhi Makhachkala in the last 16. It is a pattern Pardew is hoping continues.
"We had a tough game against Benfica," the 51-year-old said. "But it was just as tough as some of the other games we have had, and there is no reason why we can't show our strength on the pitch on Sunday."
Pardew has Yoan Gouffran back available for Sunday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Fulham, but there remain doubts over Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote.
Like forward Gouffran, Debuchy was ineligible for Thursday's European defeat, but he has also been nursing a hamstring problem and Pardew is unsure whether or not the defender, or midfielder Tiote (hamstring), will be fit enough to feature this weekend.
The manager does not expect Massadio Haidara (knee) to be ready to make his return to action against the Cottagers and has ruled out Fabricio Coloccini (back) doing so, while fellow defender Danny Simpson says he should be fit to play despite suffering a knock to the ankle in the Benfica match.
Bryan Ruiz has set his sights on helping Fulham equal their highest-ever finish of seventh in the Barclays Premier League.
The Cottagers head to Newcastle knowing a draw will bring them to the all-important 40-point mark with seven games to spare.
A mid-season slump had led to fears that Fulham could be dragged in to their first relegation battle in many a year, but outstanding performances from Mark Schwarzer, Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov mean Martin Jol's men now have their eyes trained on the top half of the table rather than the bottom.
And a recent five-match unbeaten run has propelled Fulham up to 10th in the table.
Roy Hodgson guided Fulham to their record highest finish of seventh in 2010, and with just nine points separating the Londoners and the current occupants of that position - Liverpool - Ruiz thinks he and his team-mates could equal that achievement this term.
"We really want to win on Sunday as it will put us in a very good position to try and catch ninth, eighth, or even seventh place," he said.
In years gone by Newcastle-Fulham would have been seen as a home banker due to the Magpies' strength at St James' Park, and the Cottagers' poor away record.
This season has been a different story, however. Fulham have shaken off their away-day blues and Newcastle sit just three points above the relegation zone after a disappointing season.
Ruiz is wary of the damage that the likes Moussa Sissoko and Papiss Cisse can do, however, and he thinks it would be foolish to underestimate a team who have reached the last eight of the Europa League this season in spite of their domestic troubles.
"Newcastle are doing well in the Europa League which shows they are a good team," added Ruiz on Fulham's website. "They had a bad period this season but they still have some very good players and we'll need to take care of them.
"But they have the pressure. We are playing well so if we do the things we've been doing then we can play with no pressure."
Cottagers midfielder Steve Sidwell misses out through suspension.
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