Midfielder Cheick Tiote insists he is not surprised by how well Newcastle have fared in the Barclays Premier League this season.

The Magpies are six points clear of the relegation zone and know that victory over Birmingham at St James' Park would almost certainly mathematically guarantee their presence in the top flight and keep alive their hopes of a top-10 finish.

That would represent a significant achievement for a club which underwent a traumatic restructuring after slipping out of the Premier League two years ago.

Some of the biggest names jumped ship while others were offloaded as part of a dramatic cost-cutting exercise.

And despite their swift return from the second tier, a modest summer recruitment drive led many to predict a long, hard season.

But Tiote, a £3.5million acquisition from FC Twente, does not believe too many eyebrows should be raised if Newcastle finish in the top half of the table, particularly with Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool all failing to win at St James'.

He said: "No, because we work together and we have grown in confidence together, so I am not surprised.

"If you do well against a big club you have confidence, and this year we have done well."

Steven Taylor will start in central defence after Mike Williamson was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken bone in his arm.

Pardew had hoped to give France winger Hatem Ben Arfa a series of cameos in the final three games following his recovery from a double leg fracture.

However, he has suffered a setback in training and is unlikely to play again until the new season.

 
                         
 

 

Meanwhile, Alex McLeish has warned of the need for Birmingham to have the necessary strength in depth to cope with the demands of participating in the Europa League next season.

McLeish admits he has taken heed of advice from former Dutch international Jan Wouters who was part of his coaching staff when manager of Rangers.

He is currently assistant manager at FC Utrecht whose exertions in the competition have taken their toll as the current campaign has progressed.

It is something McLeish is keen for the Carling Cup holders to avoid although he is reluctant to air his views on City's recruitment policy until they are safe from relegation.

McLeish said: "We are looking also to build this summer. We've got Europe coming up as well.

"I spoke to my friend in Holland, Jan Wouters, and he said his team, FC Utrecht, ran out of steam after a brilliant start to the season when they played great stuff.

"They beat Celtic over two games, did quite well against Liverpool and Jan says they ran out of steam because of the Europa League campaign.

"That tells you we are going to have the resources to cope with all competitions, especially with the intensity of the Premier League.

"But, listen, I'm not even thinking about the recruitment stuff just now until we are mathematically safe."

Birmingham will be without midfielder Craig Gardner who has to serve a two-game ban after being sent off against Wolves - his second red card of the campaign.

McLeish said: "We've got house rules which are private and are not for public discussion.

"But there are club policies and rules and fines in place, etc. Craig and the rest of the guys know the rules."

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