Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has spoken of his confidence in the ability of Mike Williamson and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to handle the threat of Liverpool duo Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
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The defensive pairing will get its first airing of the season on Saturday against Liverpool after Pardew confirmed club captain Fabricio Coloccini will miss the game through injury.
Currently in deadly form, Sturridge and Suarez have provided 11 goals for the Reds this season, but Pardew believes his new partnership has enough to quell the threat.
“We think he [Coloccini] will train on Monday," Pardew told the Evening Chronicle. "He is pretty close. Mapou will play, he came out of this team but he has put in some strong performances so far for this club. Certainly it takes time to adjust to the Premier League. I remember Coloccini’s first year here. Sometimes it takes some adjusting. What we have done is give him some solutions to get the best out of him.
“You are looking for a bit of character in a player. We have seen that in him. He is a player with tremendous pace. He has to utilise that. If he can do that, he is going to be a massive asset for us. We paid a lot of money for Mapou. We are hoping he can get Premier League football in a short period of time. He is growing as a player and he will get better.”
Keen to send a vote of confidence to his central defenders, Pardew also demanded a response from the rest of his squad ahead of Liverpool's visit.
Describing their last meeting as one of his "worst days in football" -- the Magpies were humbled 6-0 in front of a dejected home crowd -- Pardew is adamant he does not want a repeat performance.
“It was one of my worst days as Newcastle boss,” Pardew told the Journal, "You have to make sure there’s a response in the next game and we managed to get ourselves out of that hole fortunately, but it was a tough day and off the back of a really tough week.
"We’d been battered by the press about losing the (Tyne-Wear) derby and psychologically we weren’t in a great place. Therefore, me coming in and being hyper-critical probably wasn’t going to help. It was about being logical about how it happened and making sure we got the team over the line, which we managed to do.
“At that point, it was looking dangerous for us and when you get a defeat like that you have to really make sure you’re on your mettle. It probably kicks you into gear to make some changes. Not to mention seeking solace among family. Just being around your family and your kids helps. They know how to deal with you. I don’t think my little un’ asked me to play netball the next day. She usually gets me out there, but I think it’s probably taken on board by your family and friends."
He went onto add: “Does this carry a bit more weight because of what happened? I think that’s probably true. If there isn’t an extra bit of fire in the bellies of some of our players then there’ll be something wrong. There’ll be quite a few players playing who played on that day and I’d be disappointed if they don’t respond. That’s what you like to see. I want to get a result more than in most games we play.”
That message appears to have already resonated with striker Yoan Gouffran. A January signing from Bordeaux, Gouffran warned the Reds not to expect Newcastle to rollover on Saturday as well as revealing he believes the club could easily achieve a top ten finish this season.
"Last season was a bad day for every player," he told the Evening Chronicle. “This time we want to show Liverpool our true quality this time and not only that, but win the game. We all know how big this game is for the fans and this time we are ready to play.
"Tomorrow we want to change that result for the fans. It was a bad day last season, this time it will be different. This season I think we can be in the top 10 if we play well. The start of the season was difficult because we lost 4-0 at Man City. Afterwards, we won some games.
“We also lost points against Hull City and Everton -- and we played very badly. I have not played all the games. Sometimes I am on the bench. As a player, you are only happy if you play. When I play, I want to score and play well. Sometimes I play as a striker. Sometimes I play as a No 10 or No 11. It is not a problem. I want to play and give the best I can.”
A fixture not entirely steeped in negativity for the 52-year-old, Pardew has enjoyed better days against the Anfield club -- beating them in his first game as Newcastle manager. And Pardew feels he has consistently attempted to bring attractive football to St James' Park.
“I’ve also had some good days against Liverpool," he said. "My first game was special (in December 2010), and the victory over them (in April 2012) was a sweet one as well. Yet against a big club like Liverpool, you can’t expect to have it all your own way. You just have to be strong, and be bold in your own opinions of what you’re doing. Since I’ve been here, I like to think I’ve set teams up to play an attractive style of football and win games on the front foot.
"At the back end of last year, I thought we put ourselves into a position where it was difficult to set teams up like that as I didn’t think we were carrying enough threat. This year, I don’t think that. I think we carry a lot of threat and therefore we just need to get the shape of the team and the defending side of things nailed down. If we can do that, we’re going to score goals.”