As Newcastle face a challenge to remain in the Europa League, their bigger challenge could be in securing Premier League survival.
But that phrase could just as easily be applied to the Magpies’ Premier League campaign, as they face a challenge of similar proportions to avoid relegation…or at least a dalliance with the prospect.
If 17th-placed Sunderland are being talked of as potential relegation candidates, then Newcastle, just two places and two points above them, shouldn’t be discounted.
Three defeats in Newcastle’s last four league games means they are in worse form than QPR, Aston Villa and Wigan, and with both the Latics and the Villains winning nine points from a possible 12 they could soon be overtaking Pardew’s side.
If that is the case, it may be a straight fight between Newcastle and Sunderland for the coveted 17th place.
Next weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby is about far more than just bragging rights. Quite simply, it could determine which club remains in the top flight and which is thrown into the tombola of chance that is the Championship.
With Reading and QPR all but condemned to relegation, the final place is impossible to call. But as Wigan showed last season, fine late-season form can save you. It is form Newcastle are yet to find.
Their next game, at home to Fulham, is must-win. Lose and they will welcome Sunderland with anxious whispers growing in the minds of both the players and the fans.
Of all the sides in trouble, Newcastle’s run-in seems the easiest. But easy is a word not often applied to Premier League matches, and the uphill challenge Pardew is preparing for in Europe may be just the beginning.
In fact maybe that isn’t a challenge at all, but a hindrance for the real test ahead.
It is yet to be seen what impact Paolo Di Canio will have at the Stadium of Light. But should the Black Cats get anything from their trip to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, their visit to St James’ Park will be one of electrifying possibility for one side and possible trepidation for the other.
Of course they could survive at a canter. But while everyone has been talking of the teams below them, Newcastle have slowly slipped into a position they need to quickly work their way out of.
Will Newcastle be dragged into a relegation fight? And if so, what will the outcome be?
image: © mikebrown59