ALAN Pardew says Newcastle United did not have one eye on Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby during their breathless Europa League exit to Benfica.
Many had expected the Magpies chief to rest one or two of his key men ahead of the visit of their North-East rivals.
But there was no indication of preservation in the second half as United – leading 1-0 and with seven attacking personnel on the park – laid siege to the Portuguese goal.
It was a pursuit which was to fall short as Eduardo Salvio’s injury-time strike took Benifca into the last four on a 4-2 aggregate scoreline.
And, when pressed on the potential consequences of such a draining outing ahead of the weekend, Pardew replied: “I don’t think any accusation can be made that we protected ourselves for Sunderland.
“We sustained some energy in the first half which we just wouldn’t be able to do if we’d played like we did in the second half.
“We had a real go and left our big-hitters on – in fact, that was the most attacking side I’ve ever put out at the end.
“We nearly, nearly got it.”
Indeed, such were United’s efforts, they were applauded from the pitch on full-time by a capacity crowd.
And Pardew has no doubt that both the fans and his players will be pumped up come Sunday’s noon start against the Black Cats.
“Trust me, Sunday will be a special occasion,” he said, with Steven Taylor set to return to the starting XI for the derby clash having missed last night because of injury.
“It is an important game regardless of our league positions.
“Our next target this season is trying to secure a top-10 finish and that starts this weekend.
“We’ve had a fantastic effort in Europe from the whole club and our fans have been magnificent.
“I’d like to think the cheer at the end was for the performance, they acknowledged the team had had a good go.”