Newcastle Focus – Critical fixtures loom for the Magpies

As uninspiring as Newcastle’s goalless draw against Norwich on Saturday may have been, it did bring to an end a run of three consecutive defeats for the Magpies, along with their first clean sheet away from St. James’ Park in the Premier League this season. Another positive to arise from the stalemate at Carrow Road was the return to action of Yohan Cabaye, after the influential midfielder was introduced as a 57th minute substitute and came through his first competitive appearance since November 11 unscathed.

Encouraging signs then for Alan Pardew ahead of what promises to be two crucial games for his charges, as they look to put some distance between themselves and those clubs currently occupying the Premier League’s relegation zone. At present this gap is two points, held over 18th placed Aston Villa, who they will travel to face at Villa Park after playing host to Reading next Saturday.

After hauling themselves of the foot of the table on Saturday by coming from two goals down with eight minutes to play to beat West Brom 3-2, the Royals now sit only five points adrift of Newcastle. As such, the upcoming encounter between the two sides is of obvious significance for both. While Newcastle’s home form this season has been indifferent, – five wins, one draw, five defeats – on the road, Reading have secured a meagre two points from 11 games, with an associated goal difference of -13.

However in their previous two Premier League away games – 1-0 and 3-1 defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham respectively – Brian McDermott’s men have shown enough to suggest Newcastle will have to improve on recent form to overcome them. That their efforts to do so will be assisted by Loic Remy appears to be an ever increasing possibility.

Vincent Labrune, chairman of Remy’s current club Marseille, confirmed that having had a bid accepted in the region of £10m, the Magpies have been granted permission to open contract talks with the striker. Although the 17-times capped French international has been a peripheral figure for Marseilles this season, in the previous four he established himself as one of Ligue 1’s top marksmen.

This led to the player attracting the interest of both Newcastle and Tottenham in the summer. Subsequently, a move to neither club materialised but alerted to his availability during this transfer window, the Newcastle hierarchy appear willing to fund a deal for Remy, who started out his career with Lyon.

Remy’s arrival would provide Pardew with a much-needed additional striking option and Papiss Cisse another colleague, in addition to Shola Ameobi, with whom the responsibility of filling the void left by Demba Ba’s departure could be shared. From Pardew’s perspective, the sooner this is done the better, as it would greatly enhance Newcastle’s prospects of emerging from their remaining fixtures in January against Reading and Villa in a better position than they currently find themselves.

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