STEVEN Taylor says Newcastle United’s pre-season is one of his hardest yet at the club.
Manager Alan Pardew warned his squad after the final ball was kicked last season that they faced their toughest preparation yet when they returned to Tyneside.
He’s hopeful that greater fitness can reduce the amount of injuries at the club, with the playing staff having been stretched to breaking point during last term’s battle against relegation.
Faye Downey – who has worked with England’s rugby team – has been brought in as a fitness consultant.
United’s players have bought into the tougher regime, according to Taylor, who is undertaking his 10th first-team pre-season.
“Everyone’s going to be watching us very closely after last year,” Taylor told SportMail. “We need a big season from everyone.
“The good thing is that everyone wants to prove themselves. No one is dropping out of sessions when they’re feeling a bit tight.
“They’re completing it. You can rest up afterwards.
“The discipline’s been spot on. A few things have changed, and the lads have bought into it. Hopefully, we’ll take that into the games.”
Taylor did some fitness work in the United States during the close-season break, with the days of reporting back for the new campaign overweight are long gone.
Pardew said his team for Tuesday night’s friendly against Motherwell at Fir Park was selected on the basis of conditioning.
He praised the fitness of midfielder Vurnon Anita and defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who captained Newcastle to a 4-2 victory.
Hatem Ben Arfa was left behind on Tyneside, and the forward has work to do before he makes his seasonal debut.
Pardew could select his starting XI for tomorrow’s game against Rio Ave in Portugal on the same basis.
For his part, Taylor, 27, feels the work done individually over the summer, and collectively over the coming weeks, will pay dividends over the course of the season.
“The good thing is that everyone’s kept themselves in good condition,” he said.
“With six weeks off, the players can only relax for a couple of weeks. You’ve got to spend the rest of the time keeping fit.
“Everyone’s come back in top shape. Sometimes one or two might come back overweight, but that hasn’t happened.
“Football’s changed massively. You’ve got to keep yourself ticking over, and have a good diet.
“Pre-season’s definitely harder than last year. We’re doing plenty of running. I’m enjoying it as well.
“After a difficult year, we want to hit the ground running.”
Pardew’s squad arrived in Portugal on Wednesday. They are based at Braga’s training complex.