By Rob Stewart
Former Newcastle United skipper Alan Shearer believes that the Tyneside club are capable of qualifying for the money-spinning Champions League this season and has suggested that the top three "will finish where they are at the moment" with Manchester City currently leading the way.
Shearer is convinced that Newcastle have what it takes to secure fourth place in the Premier League table at the end of the season, a position which would secure a place in Europe’s elite competition next term.
The Magpies are currently fifth just a point behind Chelsea and are leading Arsenal and Liverpool by two and three points, respectively, and Shearer is bullish about the run-in.
As Newcastle manager Alan Pardew prepares to face third-placed Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Saturday evening, Shearer is confident that his old club can maintain their momentum over the last 14 games.
"Let’s be honest, at the start of the season, no-one really expected Newcastle to be where they are and if anyone says they did then they are lying and even the manager will tell you he didn’t expect it," Shearer told Goal.com.
"But they are up there on merit. They are winning games and they are entertaining the public and scoring goals. Where can they finish? I really don’t know.
"I was thinking maybe they will end up in sixth or seventh place but the more I see of them then it makes me think I can’t be certain where they will be come May."
He continued: "I will be keeping my fingers crossed on that one. Top four? Well why not. They have got nothing to lose, have they? No one gave them a prayer of actually getting there and everyone thought they would fall away after that unbeaten start to the season.
"I would love to see them finishing in the top four and it would be great to have Champions League football back at St James’ Park.
"I think the top three – Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs - will finish where they are at the moment but there will be one place that is up for grabs. So why not? But then again Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal will all have their eyes on that fourth spot as well. Whatever happens, it certainly makes for an exciting end to the season."
Shearer, who spearheaded Newcastle’s last Champions League campaign under Sir Bobby Robson in the 2002-03 season, is optimistic about his hometown club’s chances of a top-four finish thanks to the exploits of Senegalese strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
Cisse sported the No.9 shirt that Shearer used to wear for Newcastle and he got his Toon Army career off to a flying start following his €10 million (£9m) switch from Freiburg. The striker notched a goal on his debut to clinch his new club a 2-1 win over Aston Villa last weekend, after strike partner Ba had scored his 16th goal this term.
"It just doesn’t get any better than scoring a goal on your debut in front of the Gallowgate End and for it to be the winning goal as well, that is the sort of thing that dreams are made of for Geordies," Shearer added.
"It didn’t look as though he needed any help in terms of confidence but if he did then that should help him really settle down. There is nothing like a goal to help a striker find his feet when he arrives at a new club so this bodes really well for the future.
"It was great seeing Demba Ba score as well because Newcastle have missed him because he has been an absolute revelation this season. That’s 16 goals and counting."
Shearer, who had a spell as caretaker manager of the Magpies after scoring a club-record 206 goals in Newcastle colours, believes Ba and Cisse will worry any top-flight defence.
"If Cisse can score half the goals that Ba has scored then they will be a threat to anyone in the Premier League," he said. "The early signs are really promising. Alan Pardew has clearly seen something in him and hopefully they can play together and form a great partnership.
"I don’t know which way the manager will go in terms of his strikeforce but it will be great if he does go in with the two of them in most games, and the signs from the Villa game were very encouraging.
"They both got a goal so with a bit of luck they will continue in the same vein. And they have so much pace and power that they will give any defenders a run for their money."
Shearer expects Spurs to provide a stern test for Newcastle when Harry Redknapp returns to the dugout for the first time since he was heavily tipped to take over as England manager following Fabio Capello's resignation.
"The Tottenham game will be another big test for them. They have come through many tests this season already but it will be a tough game down at White Hart Lane," Shearer said.
"They say there are no easy games in the Premier League and anyone who thinks otherwise should just remember that Blackburn-Manchester United game at Old Trafford. No one gave Rovers a hope and they won 3-2. It just shows you never know."