ALAN PARDEW probably wishes he’d kept his mouth shut when, with his side still challenging for Champions League qualification last May, he stated Newcastle United were now operating in a different league to Everton FC.
A glance at the league table suggests Pardew may be right, given the manner the Toon Army have since struggled in contrast to a fine campaign for the Goodison outfit.
But there is one aspect in which the Magpies manager is most certainly in a position familiar to David Moyes.
Newcastle’s preparations for this evening’s Premier League clash between the sides at St James’ Park have been overshadowed by speculation surrounding the future of Demba Ba.
While Chelsea have held talks with the in-form Senegalese striker, no deal has yet been agreed, meaning Ba could do battle against the team against whom he scored twice in the 2-2 Goodison draw in September.
Moyes was in a similar situation regarding Joleon Lescott’s future three years ago as Manchester City pursued the centre-back.
And of the Ba issue, the Goodison manager says: “I don’t know if it will help us. I think Alan will play him if he is available.
“It would not be a great thing to have around the club. We had it when Lescott was leaving the club, a similar thing. It did not work in our favour.
“Maybe it would be different with a goalscorer who plays up front. Until they get the offer, he is going to be playing for Newcastle.
“I think it can be a problem for his team-mates. When it starts to go wrong you start looking around. But Ba is an important player to Alan. He is getting the goals and a threat.”
Newcastle narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification last season when finishing fifth, two places and nine points ahead of Everton.
It prompted Pardew’s now infamous pronouncement that has been made to look even more foolish by his team’s woes this season, Newcastle only three points off the relegation zone after the weekend games compared to the Goodison outfit standing a similar distance from the top four.
“I think we are all operating in similar leagues and at times this league can be really punishing,” says Moyes. “The Europa league can have an effect on it.
“It’s a tough league, you don’t know where the wins will come from. We have had a good start but who is to say we will have a good second half. I think it’s difficult.
“It’s a league where it is really punishing and you can be caught with your pants down very quickly but at the same time you can be cock of the north quite easily as well if you get four or five wins under your belt.
“You have to be level and quite balanced: not too high when you’re the man and when it’s not going too well keep your head down and get on with it. There are three or four teams that could go either way.”
While Newcastle netted three goals at both Old Trafford and the Emirates over Christmas, the fact they conceded four and then seven respectively underlines why they have failed to replicate last season’s achievements.
Moyes, though, does not expect the Magpies to park the bus this evening.
“I think that Alan will pick his team with what he has got,” he says. “He is a bit short of defenders, maybe his best form of defence is attack. That looks like what they have been trying to do.
“They went to Arsenal and United and scored goals. None of us like conceding goals, but you have to do what you can with what you have got.”
Everton could be down to the bare bones this evening with injuries starting to catch up with their small squad over the hectic festive period.
The absence of Darron Gibson for the next month with a thigh problem is a significant blow with the Republic of Ireland midfielder having just rediscovered his sharpness having missed three months earlier in the campaign with a similar injury.
“It’s a big loss because he is influential,” admits Moyes. “It limits me because Phil Neville is recovering from knee op so makes me a little short at times.
“Marouane Fellaini can drop back in. John Heitinga can step in too if we need it. We’ve been short of right-backs too and that’s why I always look for players who can play a couple of positions so we have that versatility as that helps us get through when we are short.”
Despite the absentees, Everton were unfortunate to see their long unbeaten home run halted by a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday.
Victory would have seen the Goodison outfit leapfrog the Londoners into third place, and Moyes believes the performance of his makeshift side underlines they are worthy challengers for Champions League qualification.
“You don’t come out of Sunday’s game feeling like a defeat because we deserved to get something out of it,” he says.
“It was a test of where we are. And we ran Chelsea really close, where are Chelsea? You would expect them to be really close to Manchester United and City come the end of the season.
“We ran them close on the day and if we had won there would not have been too many complaints.
“It was a real nip-and-tuck game that did not quite go for us. It showed that we can compete against any of the teams on the day.
“Have we got that added bit of quality that some of these teams have got? Maybe not. But with 11 v 11, we have a chance.”