Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew believes his side’s performances so far this season merit a top six position above Liverpool after a Leon Best goal secured a 1-0 win over QPR on Sunday.
Best has been forced to play second fiddle to the in-form Demba Ba this season, but with the Senegalese international away with his country ahead of the African Cup of Nations, the 25-year has been promoted to the front line and rewarded his manager’s faith with a match winning effort at the Sports Direct Arena.
The win moved Newcastle one point clear of Liverpool after they only managed a draw against Stoke at Anfield on Saturday, and level on points with fifth placed Arsenal.
Cheik Tiote is also missing for the Magpies because of the African Cup of Nations, and while Pardew believes that his side are full value for their current position, the former West Ham boss believes how they perform without two of their leading players will define where then finish this season.
“We find ourselves sixth, above Liverpool, after 21 games and not because of what happened yesterday (at Anfield)," said Pardew.
"We deserve to be there and the next few games are very important for us. If we can get a couple of wins before the lads come back from the African Nations, we'll get a huge boost when they do return.
"Can we sustain our position? I think that question will be better answered when we get through this period without two great players. We've overcome two hurdles since they've been away - Blackburn, which was a tough game that we won and we won again today. So far we've passed with flying colours."
Pardew received a scare during the win over QPR after Yohan Cabaye went down heavily under a tackle from Shaun Derry, which resulted in the 26-year-old being stretchered off.
Referee Chris Foy produced only a yellow card for the tackle in a week where refereeing decisions have come under increased scrutiny following Vincent Kompany’s sending off against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
However, Pardew insists that despite Cabaye’s protests, a yellow was the right decision whilst allaying fears the influential midfielder was facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“There's always controversy about tackling. It's very, very difficult for referees, so I am not going to sit here and criticise that decision," Pardew said.
"But Yohan was upset. He felt it was probably a little bit over-exuberant, but the doc thinks he is going to be okay."