Newcastle v Crystal Palace: The question Alan Pardew did NOT want to answer ahead of his return to St James’s

Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew

Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew

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It wasn’t a difficult question.

But Alan Pardew didn’t want to answer it ahead of his return to St James’s Park.

Pardew knows he’s in for a tough afternoon off the pitch tomorrow.

The 54-year-old, now Crystal Palace manager, didn’t leave Newcastle United on good terms with the club’s fanbase.

Pardew’s last year on Tyneside had been punctuated by loud calls for him to be sacked by fans unhappy with the team’s performances.

In the end, he walked.

Pardew was asked about what kind of reception he was expecting on his first return to the stadium since leaving in December 2014.

“That question’s a little bit loaded,” said Pardew, who was reluctant to say anything that could further antagonise fans on Tyneside.

Other questions on his relationship with Newcastle’s fans were also fended off by Pardew, who cited the “fantastic moments” he had during his four-year tenure at St James’s Park.

He said: “I know how I feel.

“I loved managing that football club.

“I had some fantastic moments there, and fantastic games – quarter-finals of the Europa League, we finished fifth and manager of the year.

“We had some great moments and also had some difficult moments.”

Asked again about United’s fans, he added: “It’s not about me.

“It really is about Newcastle and us trying to get three points.”

Palace beat Watford 2-1 at Wembley last weekend to reach the FA Cup final, where they will meet Manchester United.

But the club, which is 16th in the Premier League and nine points ahead of second-bottom United, is not yet mathematically safe from the threat of relegation.

To that end, Pardew invited Eddie Jones, coach of England’s Grand Slam-winning rugby union team, to speak to his players this week.

“He had words with the team about complacency,” said Pardew.

The odds are on Palace securing their top-flight status .

Newcastle, however, are odds-on to go down.

Pardew repeatedly stressed how much he wanted Newcastle to stay in the league.

But not at the expense of Palace, the club he once served as a player.

“I course I want them to stay up,” said Pardew.

“I’m desperate for them to stay up.

“(Newcastle’s) players are close to me.

“I’ve been through a lot with those players on and off the pitch.

“I’m desperate for them to stay up. Having said that, my job is to get three points for Palace.”

Pardew, however, feels his team’s job has got much harder because of Rafa Benitez, who succeeded Steve McClaren at the club early last month.

Newcastle, under Benitez, have taken five points from their last three games – they came from behind to draw against Liverpool and Manchester City, and also beat Swansea City on home turf – and Pardew says the club’s recent performances have “worried” him.

United fought back from 2-0 down at Anfield to draw 2-2 last week.

It could yet prove to be an important point.

“I think they’ve improved,” he said.

“Rafa’s an experienced manager who has managed at the top of the game.

“He’s got this team in a much better place to win the game and that worries me.

“My job’s now Palace manager and we need to win this game.”

United were beaten 5-1 by Palace at Selhurst Park in November, and there were calls for McClaren to go in the wake of the defeat.

Pardew said: “That was a night that everything went in for us. It was never a 5-1 game.

“But we got goals at the right times.

“The result didn’t really replicate the game.”

Things didn’t get much better for Newcastle under McClaren.

And the club’s future now rests on 270 minutes of football, though a defeat against Palace could see its fate decided before the final game of the campaign against Tottenham Hotspur.

Pardew doesn’t expect the first of those fixtures to be for the faint-hearted.

“They (United’s fans) want to see their team play with heart and spirit,” said Pardew.

“The atmosphere will be red hot. It’s a tough ask to try and win there.”

Meanwhile, Palace Wilfried Zaha is rated 50-50 by Pardew.