Superior spirit has Newcastle on course for fourth

Paul Parker

Everyone has at least half an eye on Monday's huge Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium, but there are plenty of other big Premier League fixtures to come before that potential title-decider this weekend.

Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea are all chasing a Champions League place, and with them facing Wigan, Blackburn and Queens Park Rangers respectively, these are three fixtures with huge implications at both ends of the table.

With Newcastle currently sitting in fourth, three points ahead of Spurs and four ahead of Chelsea with three games to play, you have to say that they are favourites to go on and clinch that spot at the end of the season.

Wigan have been great in recent weeks, and were unlucky to lose at Chelsea and Fulham either side of great wins over Manchester United and Arsenal, but I think Newcastle will leave the DW Stadium with all three points.

The Magpies are on an amazing run of form at just the right time. Seven wins on the bounce is a great run for any side, and Newcastle are playing full of confidence. This is a squad which does not have a great deal of Premier League experience - certainly at the top end of the table - compared to the clubs around them, but there appears to be little sign that they will falter at the final hurdle.

Alan Pardew has to take a great deal of credit for that. You can have all the talent in the world, but spirit and belief are crucial factors in the final stretch, and Pardew's players have that in spades.

True, their final two matches are against Chelsea and Manchester City, but any positive result at Stamford Bridge would do for Chelsea's hopes of finishing fourth. If that happens, expect sales of Bayern Munich shorts on Tyneside to rocket ahead of the Champions League final.

Compare that with Tottenham, whose recent performances and results have put them in an alarming decline. I heard Vedran Corluka - currently on loan at Bayer Leverkusen from Spurs - criticise Harry Redknapp for not rotating his team enough, and that the players look tired.

I completely disagree. Spurs and Newcastle have both started 18 different players in the Premier League this season and used another five as substitutes only, and just look at the difference between the two teams at this stage of the campaign.

When a team is playing well and results are coming, no one ever complains about being tired or demands to be rested. I think Corluka is just saying things like that in order to get himself sold in the summer.

Redknapp's attempt to switch things around tactically is what has contributed to the wheels coming off their bid for a Champions League place, which at one point looked nailed on. Now the tide is against them, they look a side whose confidence is shattered.

Blackburn may have plenty of flaws, but scoring goals has not been a problem for them this season. No team outside the top six have scored more than Rovers in the league, so I fancy them to get something at White Hart Lane. It may not be enough to keep Steve Kean's team up, but it would all but end Tottenham's top-four hopes and leave the way clear for Newcastle to make a highly impressive return to the Champions League.

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