sport

Pardew: Tough times for Toon

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has admitted he is facing his biggest challenge since arriving at St James' Park.

The Magpies will head into Wednesday night's difficult trip to Stoke having lost their last three Premier League games as a result of Sunday's tame 2-0 defeat at Southampton and with just a single victory to their name in eight league outings.

A return of six points from a possible 24 has left them languishing in 14th place in the table and seven points adrift of Everton in fifth position, where they finished at the end of the last campaign.

Asked if he is enduring his toughest spell since replacing Chris Hughton at the helm in December 2010, Pardew told the Evening Chronicle: "For sure - there's no doubt about that. We are really having to fight.

"We have got players, let's be honest, who aren't playing as well as we know they can. We are struggling for a bit of confidence."

The demands of the club's involvement in the Europa League coupled with a crippling injury list, which has exposed their lack of transfer activity during the summer, have left the Magpies fighting to keep their heads above water.

Central defender Steven Taylor became the latest man to head for the treatment room after damaging a hamstring at the St Mary's Stadium.

Pardew headed for the South Coast with no fewer than 11 senior players unavailable, and he admitted Taylor's name was likely to be added to that list for the game at the Britannia Stadium.

If so, he will be without arguably his most physical central defender for one of the fixtures where his particular brand of football is ideally suited, midfielder creator Yohan Cabaye and the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa, who damaged a hamstring in Thursday night's 1-1 Europa League draw with Maritimo.

In the circumstances, the impending return of skipper Fabricio Coloccini from suspension could hardly be more timely.

Pardew said: "We are missing some key players, but one of them will be back on Wednesday night, thank goodness.

"It looks like Steven's going to miss out, so it's one thing after another."

Newcastle's 3-1 victory at Stoke on October 31 represented perhaps the first indication that something special was happening on Tyneside last season.

Demba Ba's fine hat-trick against the club which had decided against signing him during the previous January secured a deserved three points and paved the way for a concerted push towards the upper reaches of the table.

This time around, they will head for the Potteries with confidence at a low ebb and facing a fourth consecutive Premier League defeat for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, at the end of which they were relegated.

That run of fixtures, which coincided with Kevin Keegan's departure from his second spell in charge on Tyneside, saw them lose at Arsenal and West Ham either side of a home defeat by Hull, and then go down 2-1 to Blackburn at St James' on September 27, 2008 with interim manager Joe Kinnear watching from the stands.