NEWCASTLE United have been backed to finish the season strongly – by former manager Chris Hughton.
Hughton’s Norwich City were held to a goalless draw by the relegation-threatened club on Saturday.
New signing Mathieu Debuchy made his debut at Carrow Road, while influential midfielder Yohan Cabaye made his comeback from injury.
And Hughton feels Alan Pardew’s side – who sit uncomfortably just two points above the Premier League’s drop zone – will start to climb the Premier League table over the coming weeks as more players return from injury.
“It’s been a tough season for Newcastle,” Hughton told
SportMail. “I think it’s quite obvious with the Europa League and the injuries they’ve had, it’s difficult to cope.
“It was always going to be difficult for Newcastle to replicate the last season they had.
“Playing in the Europa League, with the injuries they’ve had, would be tough for anybody. But I certainly expect Newcastle to finish strongly.
“Am I surprised? Yes I am, and I think most people would be, but when you look at the reasons why, I think it’s understandable.
“They’ve been missing key players. And possibly the squad has struggled to deal with the volume of games.”
Hughton, dismissed as United manager just over two years ago, felt his team had deserved the three points, with Norwich having had the better of the handful of chances created in the game.
Hughton said: “We’re disappointed. Over the 90 minutes, we were the better team.
“If anyone was going to score, I think it was more likely to be us.
“But I think we lacked that little bit of quality in that final third. We didn’t test Tim Krul enough.
“On the back of four defeats, we were up against a team that always scores.
“They went to the Emirates and Old Trafford and got three goals in each game.”
Newcastle went into the game on the back of three successive league defeats, and having conceded 13 goals in those matches, Pardew was targeting a clean sheet above all else at Carrow Road.
“I thought Newcastle defended very well,” added Hughton.
“I thought the two centre-halves were excellent, but perhaps we didn’t test them enough. For us it was a bit of a lost opportunity.”