Pardew wary of critical period for Magpies

Alan Pardew admits the destiny of Newcastle's season could be decided in the next two months.

Football News:  Demba Ba, Gael Bigirimana

The Magpies head for Fulham on Monday night knowing they face a difficult run of fixtures afterwards, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal all waiting in the wings before the end of 2012.

Injuries to Yohan Cabaye and Steven Taylor and Cheick Tiote's impending departure for the African Nations Cup will stretch their resources, and Pardew is hoping for a positive January transfer window.

His side will run out at Craven Cottage having prevented their manager from celebrating two years in charge at St James' Park with a fifth successive Barclays Premier League defeat for the first time, but with the 51-year-old knowing they need to make a dramatic improvement over a sustained period if they are to come anywhere close to replicating last season's top-five finish.

Pardew said: "This is a critical period, from now until January. I do feel after January this team is definitely going to be stronger.

"But we are going to lose Cheick, we have obviously lost Cabaye, we have lost Steven Taylor and we have got some big teams coming, big clubs, bigger clubs than us - and there aren't many that are bigger than us.

"It will be a real test in the next two months. We have got to really nail ourselves down and get as many points as we can and see where we are.

"We are not actually too far away from that fifth, sixth place - probably the same as we are from the relegation zone.

"That's where our season is right now."

The retention of striker Demba Ba, whose well-publicised release-cause becomes active once again next month, remains a priority, although the manager is refusing to be drawn into the speculation.

He said: "Demba Ba is under contract here, he's playing for this football club and he enjoys playing for it."

Ba is one of six men - Davide Santon, Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Hatem Ben Arfa and Gabriel Obertan are the others - who could be fit after spending recent days and, in the case of some, weeks in the treatment room, although Pardew was again playing his cards close to his chest.

He said: "I am not going to say too much because it's important that we keep our powder dry for Monday night.

"But we are in better shape."

The return of key men - Ba has 10 goals to his name, while Ben Arfa was in thrilling form until he was laid low by a hamstring strain - should make Newcastle a stronger proposition, and defender Mike Williamson is confident they have got what it takes to rediscover the cutting edge which catapulted them up the table last season.

Williamson, who played a significant role in the surge into the top five during the 2011-12 campaign, firmly believes there is much more to come this time around.

The 29-year-old said: "We have had a difficult run, but we are trying to dig ourselves out, but we have got the character in the group and it has given the lads a lift.

"We just need to carry that momentum on and make sure we go and get a result on Monday.

"There are no easy games, especially with the run we have been on.

"Last year, when you are up there, you get those little breaks, you get those little knock-downs, decisions and things like that, and the opposite happens when you are not.

"When you are scrapping, you feel like things are going against you, the ball isn't breaking, the little offside decisions, the little deflections, they all go against you.

"But we have got enough characters in the team to change that and push forward, and we have still got a big chunk of the season to prove we have got a lot left in us."

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