sport

Pardew wants Europa spot

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew knows what a complicating factor the Europa League is - but he still wants to be in it.

The Magpies reached the quarter-finals of the competition last season but the 14 matches they played undoubtedly contributed to their league struggles.

Newcastle eventually finished 16th, two places and five points above the relegation zone.

Without the distraction of European competition this season, Pardew's side have made an excellent start and sit sixth in the table ahead of Saturday's trip to Crystal Palace.

The Magpies boss said: "The Europa League is a massive problem to Premier League teams, and Swansea and Tottenham are both feeling that, like we felt it, with injuries, et cetera, et cetera.

"I do think the Premier League and UEFA should get together and have a look at that because the demands of the Premier League are much greater than the other leagues, and therefore the impact is something that we are wary of, and I will say that now.

"But we are chasing a European spot - that's what we want to do."

Aston Villa travel to Stoke on Saturday, with Christian Benteke bidding to score for the first time in more than three months,

Having opened the season with five goals in six games, the 23-year-old Belgian has not found the net since a 2-1 defeat by Newcastle on September 14.

Manager Paul Lambert has been keen to play down the significance of Benteke's drought, and he said: "It's well documented - that's all I ever hear, that Benteke hasn't scored for a time.

"It's never all about Christian and, like I've said before, he's only a young lad and he'll go through spells. I bet you any money he goes through another one like this in his career.

"He had a monumental start when he first came here. He's finding it a little hard at the minute and he's carrying little knocks as well, which has not helped him. When he does play, hopefully he'll score."

Two caretaker managers will take charge for the first time in the Premier League this weekend, with Tim Sherwood's Tottenham travelling to Southampton on Sunday and Keith Downing leading West Brom against Hull.

Downing stepped in after Steve Clarke was sacked last weekend, and he said: "It's very sad and I had a huge amount of respect (for Clarke).

"But he is an honourable man with integrity and he understood the decision. Now he has to forge a career elsewhere and he will do that.

"We have had a decent week and the players have responded well. We need to make sure we get the right result because three points changes everything."