Newcastle boss Alan Pardew hopes Fernando Torres has an off-night for Chelsea
NEWCASTLE manager Alan Pardew is hoping Fernando Torres' return to form suffers a temporary blip tonight as his team travel to Stamford bridge in a must-win tie if they are to keep their hopes of Champions League football alive.
The Chelsea striker capped a series of improved performances in recent weeks with a hat-trick in Sunday's 6-1 Premier League drubbing of QPR, and is starting to look like the man in whom the club invested £50 million.
Pardew admitted he was delighted to see the Spaniard back to somewhere near his best, but he is keeping his fingers crossed that he suffers a temporary relapse.
He said: "Listen, great players very rarely are down for long. I am pleased for him personally. I have been to a few games where I have seen him suffer, and don't think as professionals you want to see that from a fellow professional.
"He looks like he's got a nice smile on his face – I just hope he isn't smiling on Wednesday."
Newcastle will run out having seen their four point lead over Chelsea in the race for the top four all but evaporate at the weekend as a result of their shock 4-0 reverse at Wigan.
The gap between fifth and sixth – Tottenham, who play at battling Bolton tonight – are fourth on goal difference – is now just a single point and victory for either could prove hugely significant.
Of course Newcastle's hopes of playing in Europes most elite competition could yet be dashed if Di Matteo's men's win the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on May 19.
Roberto di Matteo's men have been a revelation since the Italian replaced Andre Vila-Boas at the helm in March, with only one of their 16 games in all competitions ending in defeat, and that narrowly at new Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Pardew said: "They have been galvanised by the managerial change and the senior players kicking into gear and producing their best form at the right time.
"Over the years, they have managed to get themselves in and around trophies, and they have got a great opportunity of getting Champions League football and two trophies.
"Those players have a natural hunger no matter what they earn, and we are going to have to be on our guard because they are really in top form.
"One of the things he [Di Matteo] has done there – and that probably would have made sense after the last manager – is to keep everybody happy.
"That must start to get difficult now because he has to start to choose teams to play in cup finals, and that's the real test of a manager, just keeping everybody onside and everybody pulling together.
"I think Wednesday night will be a game where he will be looking to make sure everybody is happy, so in terms of the team, I wouldn't have a clue who he is going to pick."
Pardew will hope fullback Danny Simpson recovers from a knock to his ankle picked up at Wigan, but his squad has been boosted by the return of midfielders Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux from injury.