Pardew sets Newcastle's sights on Europe
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has urged his players to seize the chance to play in Europe next season by making the most of being a "year ahead" and finishing in this term's top six.
The Magpies are currently level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea in the English Premier League and Pardew said bringing back European football to the north-east club was a priority ahead of Friday's match at Swansea, another of the top flight's surprise packages this season.
"We're a year ahead of schedule," Pardew said on Wednesday. "I didn't expect us to be as close as we are to those (European) spots but we're going to take the chance in front of us if we can.
"That's football - it doesn't often put an opportunity in front of you and you've got to grasp it. I keep saying to the players that you've got an opportunity so grasp it with both hands and that's what we're going to do hopefully in the remaining games.
"We are ahead of schedule only because of the players and the application they've had. They're absolutely brilliant. They're a fantastic set of players and there's a fantastic camaraderie between them.
"We've given them a tactical base but we're not based around one system. We've got two or three systems that we can turn to and the players bind to anything that we put in front of them, which is fantastic. It doesn't happen often at a football club so I'm very privileged to be working for these players."
Although some managers regard the second-tier UEFA Europa League as a burdensome addition to an already crowded fixture schedule, Pardew has insisted he would relish the "challenge" of taking part in the tournament.
"The format (of the Europa League) actually works against Premier League teams because of the nature of our division," he said. "The intensity you have to have to play in a Premier League game - in some of the other leagues, the Europa League isn't so much of an issue as every game isn't as fully committed as ours. It's harder for the Premier League teams but that's not to say we wouldn't accept that challenge.
"We really hope for our fans more than anything that we get European football for them," said Pardew, who is looking to become the first manger to bring a major trophy back to St James' Park since Joe Harvey oversaw the 1969 European Fairs Cup triumph.
Swans hit rough waters
Newly promoted Swansea have won plenty of plaudits for their stylish football under the guidance of Northern Irish coach Brendan Rodgers. But the Welsh club, although still an impressive 10th in the table, go into Friday's game on the back of successive defeats by Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
However, the Swans have not lost three straight league games all season and Rodgers is confident they can bounce back, just as they did when losses to Norwich City and Stoke City were followed by a run of three wins that took Swansea into the top 10.
"We have had two difficult games against Everton, who played very well, and we have been to White Hart Lane and given Tottenham a real game, and the game was in the balance until the final 10 minutes," said Rodgers.
"We know we have seven tough games to go but we are motivated to finish as high as we can. What's most important to us are the points. We have never got too down when we lost games and we hope we can continue what we did the last time we lost two games, when we won our next three."