JOHN Carver says Newcastle United would regard missing out on a European qualification spot as a major disappointment after their brilliant season so far.
Speaking ahead of a Tyne-Wear derby that Carver sees as an opportunity to draw 13 points clear of their arch-rivals, the United assistant boss says that matching the pre-season target of a top-half finish is now not enough for the club.
It is a sign of the progress made over this uplifting campaign that Carver is now upscaling the expectations at St James’ Park – a message that has been delivered to the squad too.
He also needs to keep reminding himself of the bigger picture, because his “fan’s head” only cares about putting one over on the club’s oldest foes.
“We have got a fantastic opportunity but it’s funny because – and this is me talking with my ‘fan’ head on – my thinking is ‘if we win this, we’re 13 points away from Sunderland’,” he told The Journal.
“The fan part of me is saying that’s all I’m bothered about! But from a professional point of view it’s a chance to kick on and get closer to and consolidate that sixth or seventh spot.
“That has to be the goal now. I think that people look at the season and if we finish 10th or 11th it will be a disappointing season after the start we had. We’ve got to maintain that, we’ve got 12 games to go now and lots of points to play for.
“But again – we get the right result and it opens that huge gap, which is good.”
Newcastle should be boosted by a positive fitness bulletin on Papiss Demba Cissé before the weekend, while boss Alan Pardew is also weighing up whether to re-introduce Hatem Ben Arfa after a pair of below-par displays.
United certainly need to improve on the performance delivered against Wolverhampton Wanderers, which Carver candidly admits was not good enough.
Newcastle drew 2-2 in a game that was widely viewed as a chance for them to wipe out memories of the Tottenham “debacle” – losing ground on the top four and allowing Liverpool a glimmer of hope in the chase to finish sixth along the way.
Post-match analysis in the United camp has been damning, with the demand to play at a quicker tempo and with more conviction delivered in no uncertain terms.
“(Wolves) was disappointing but we’ve watched the game again and we didn’t even deserve to get a point in my opinion. We didn’t play well,” Carver said.
“It was not as if there was one or two not playing well, we didn’t play well as a group. We were actually quite fortunate to be winning 2-0 at half-time, they had a fantastic spirit, plenty of energy and that proved to be the case when we looked at the stats afterwards. People underestimated how well they have done away from home as well – they drew at Spurs but we got battered there. It was no surprise they got back into it considering how poorly we played.
“Still – and I know the manager said this afterwards – it was still an improvement on the Spurs debacle, so let’s see what happens.”