Newcastle V West Brom at St James' Park : Match Preview
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Champs League bid unlikely - Pardew
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has dismissed talk of a Champions League push after masterminding an encouraging turn-around in his side's Barclays Premier League fortunes.
The Magpies will make it four straight wins if they beat West Brom at St James' Park on Saturday - a run which has lifted them to eighth place, just two points behind the top four.
It is a far cry from the summer of frustration in the transfer market and the controversy over the future of midfielder Yohan Cabaye, all of which appeared to make a relegation struggle more likely.
Given the tempestuous nature of his tenure Pardew is understandably keen not to get carried away with his side's good form, but admits that with an almost fully-fit squad he can afford to look forward with confidence.
Pardew said: "I've been asked about the Champions League but we're far from that and if we got there it would be unbelievable.
"But we have got a very good side who are progressing up the table, and if that question gets asked to me again in April I will answer it, hopefully positively.
"The nature of the league has helped us stay in contention with the bigger clubs but this is where their advantage comes into play in terms of their squad size.
"But our squad is stronger this year and if we can keep the momentum going and the group fairly fit and well, hopefully we can stay in touch."
Such is the buoyant mood at St James' Park that Pardew could afford to shrug off the latest speculation regarding the long-term futures of Cabaye and captain Fabricio Coloccini.
Both will feature in the Saturday clash against the Baggies, while French full-back Mathieu Debuchy will return from suspension with no guarantee of forcing his way back into the starting line-up.
"Last season the Europa League campaign was decimating for us and when I was moaning about it a lot of fans probably thought I was making excuses but it had such an impact," added Pardew.
"This year we haven't got that pressure and on Tuesday we probably had the best day's training we've had here in terms of numbers.
"I could have picked two teams but this time last year I struggled to select a side that was capable of representing the team. Heading into December we're in great shape."
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke has warned rival clubs to forget poaching in-form striker Shane Long in January.
Long came within hours of quitting The Hawthorns in early September after Albion agreed a fee of #6.5million with Hull for the Republic of Ireland star.
It is understood Hull tried to renegotiate the deal at the eleventh hour, resulting in Albion pulling the plug.
At the time Clarke claims Long had endured "an interrupted start to the season" due to a couple of niggly injuries and international call ups, along with an ongoing contract saga.
They are all reasons why Albion were prepared to let Long leave, but with the 26-year-old now back to his best with four goals in his last four matches for club and country, it has become unthinkable any move will be considered when the transfer window re-opens.
"If Shane continues to play at the level he is right now the contract issue will sort itself out," said Clarke.
"If he's on that level there's no doubt. But are you asking me if I'm selling Shane in January? No, I'm not.
"Why would I sell my best, most in-form striker? I don't think Shane will be going anywhere in January. I haven't considered it.
"I just want Shane to continue in this run of form. I don't want to spend the next four weeks talking about Shane's contract or whether he's going to be here after January because he will be."
Albion currently have an option for next season on Long, who joined West Brom from Reading for #6.5million two-and-a-half years ago.
With Long back in the goals and settled again, Clarke is convinced no ill feeling between club and player exists after the failed move to Hull.
"I spoke to Shane immediately after it all died down and he assured me he was fine," added Clarke. "He understood - although maybe he didn't want to accept - the logic behind it.
"All I could do was assure him he was a big part of my plans and I liked him. How could I not like what Shane has done since I've been at the club? He's been tremendous for me, tremendous for the club since he came here.
"For me it was important to get him back on an even keel and get him playing again, but he was injured when we brought the two players in on deadline day (Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe).
"The team has evolved a little bit without him having the chance to make an impact in the team. Since then he's had to be patient, and he has been.
"You can see from his recent performances that not only has he been patient, but he's been working to make sure when his chance came he was ready to take it, and that's credit to him.
"We've seen with his performances in the last two games especially what he can bring to the team."
Clarke has conceded he has "lots of little doubts" ahead of the game.
Clarke refused to name names, but the likes of Liam Ridgewell (calf), Billy Jones and Scott Sinclair (both hamstring) have all been on the sidelines of late, and are closing in on a return.
Goalkeeper Ben Foster is definitely out as he continues to recover from a stress fracture of his foot.
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