JAMES Perch is aiming to cement his cult status at Newcastle United this season.
The defender was dubbed “Perchinio” by fans after starring in a number of roles last term.
And Perch is hoping his versatility will again be a strength over the coming campaign.
The 26-year-old made 13 starts in the Premier League as Alan Pardew’s side battled to return to Europe.
Now, the challenge for the former Nottingham Forest captain is to better that campaign, with Tottenham Hotspur first up home on August 18.
“When you look at it, we’ve got the European games and hopefully a better cup run than in the last couple of years,” said Perch.
“That means more games in the calendar for Newcastle, which hopefully means more games for me.
“Versatility’s the key and I’m willing to step in wherever and whenever.”
Perch and his team-mates face Cardiff City away in their final pre-season friendly on Saturday.
“We’ve been gearing ourselves up for this Tottenham game for the last six or seven weeks,” he said.
“It’s a tough start to the season – we know the fixtures we’ve got. We’ve got the European fixtures too.
“It’s about getting fit, getting minutes under our belt, staying injury-free and being as well prepared as we can be.”
Perch played 72 minutes of Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over Hartlepool United and, so far, pre-season has gone to plan for the Mansfield-born player.
“I’m pleased – I’ve got minutes under my belt,” he said. “Touch wood, I’m injury-free.
“I can’t be more pleased. That was my aim before the start of pre-season. It’s tough if you get an injury.”
Newcastle blew away Pools inside the first 12 minutes, with Sylvain Marveaux scoring twice and captain Shola Ameobi also finding the net in a blistering spell.
Substitutes Haris Vuckic and Gabriel Obertan scored after the break.
Manager Alan Pardew left the likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye on Tyneside and the pace and movement of United’s much-changed side at Victoria Park was encouraging.
“It was a tough test,” said Perch.
“We knew we’d have to put in a shift – they’re a physical side – but to be fair the lads put the game to bed in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we played some great stuff.
“The great support we had will have seen we passed the ball really well and scored some good goals.”
“When you’ve got players like Shols, Marveaux and Romain (Amalfitano) up front and (Dan) Gosling playing in behind with his creativity and his late runs into the box, you’re going to get goals.
“We had fresh subs coming on - Hatem and Mehdi Abeid - and they played really well, as well.”