NEWCASTLE head coach John Carver has challenged his players to embrace the pressure of having to dig themselves out of a hole.
The Magpies travel to relegated QPR tomorrow knowing victory could be enough to prevent them from following the Londoners through the Premier League trapdoor, but equally aware that anything less might leave them in desperate trouble with only West Ham’s visit to St James’s Park next weekend to come.
Carver’s men at least stopped the rot last Saturday, when a 1-1 draw with West Brom on Tyneside ended a run of eight successive defeats – a sequence of results which has proved hugely testing for all concerned.
Asked what he had learned in recent weeks, the 50-year-old said: “The last four or five months, I’ve learned an awful lot, and that’s what it’s all about.
“The fact I’ve been given the time to learn from different situations, I think it’s very important.
“The one thing is, I’m looking forward to this weekend because there’s a huge challenge in front of us, there’s a bit of pressure on us and we have to be able to embrace that pressure and deal with the challenge ahead of us.
“When we come out the other end of it – and hopefully we’ll be at the right end of it – then I will definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, be a stronger and better person for it.”
Such is the delicacy of the situation at St James’s that the club have cancelled next week’s end-of-season awards dinner, feeling it was inappropriate to hold a celebration with Premier League status still unsecured.
However, on the pitch, there has been a lift in the collective mood on the back of a better result and, perhaps more importantly, a much improved performance against the Baggies.
Carver said: “The spirit has been good – it’s been upbeat. But we are not taking our eye off the ball because we haven’t done a job yet. There’s a huge job in front of us, starting with Saturday and then the following Sunday, so we need to stay focused.”
Full-back Daryl Janmaat returns to the squad after serving a one-match ban, while striker Papiss Cisse and midfielder Rolando Aarons are also available after stepping up their respective bids for full match fitness during the past week.