Alan Pardew insists Newcastle United can have no excuses for a lack of commitment, despite there being little left to play for this season.
Newcastle have had a somewhat inconsistent campaign in the Premier League, but Pardew’s men are ninth with six games remaining and look certain to secure a top-10 finish, with 11th-placed West Ham nine points adrift.
However, supporters were left dumbfounded by Newcastle’s capitulation at Southampton last week, as Pardew witnessed England international trio Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert run riot in a 4-0 loss at the St Mary’s Stadium.
Pardew – who continues to serve a touchline ban for headbutting Hull’s David Meyler – believes there were mitigating factors in the heavy defeat against his former team.
The 52-year-old concedes it is difficult to motivate his players, who appear to be playing for little more than league position and pride, but he has urged Newcastle to bounce back with a committed showing when reigning champions Manchester United visit on Saturday.
“I think we’re in a difficult place,” he said.
“We’re on 46 points, we have a few excuses in terms of injuries so it’s easy to go ‘Oh well, okay, the summer’s not far away’.
“Certainly, I’ve made that very clear to the players that this is something that cannot happen.
“We can’t do that in front of 52,000 people paying good money to come through the door.
“We have to put on a performance that shows real commitment. It’s difficult when you get to an area of the season where there’s no real goals for you, other than a league position.
“That’s something we’ve been trying to focus the guys’ minds on.
“The focus very much this week is on our stability and the structure to the team, which we’re really good at. For most of the season we’ve had that right for every game apart from one or two, but that game (at Southampton) got away from us and we never managed to claw it back.
“There was a lot going for Southampton last week, such as the lack of first-team players on our team sheet, the desire to jump above us, and the old manager coming back.
“We didn’t combat all of that desire from Southampton, and I don’t think that will be the case on Saturday.
“When you have desire on the pitch, things fall into place.
“What we took out of the game at Southampton was no credibility. Therefore, we’re a blank piece of paper, so we need to get structure in the team, understand what it’s like when other teams score and how to react to that.”
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