Alan Optimistic

Alan Pardew reckons he could have his strongest pool of players to pick from for the trip to Stoke on Saturday.

Michael Carrick and Matthew Etherington are likely to return and Alan says:

"We feel they have got a chance for the weekend after taking part in training which is very good news for us.

"It could well be I am picking from my strongest squad all season, really.

"We have got a couple suspended, though, in Nigel and Tomas - which would certainly have made it my strongest.

"Nevertheless, with a clean sheet under our belts and having Michael and Mattie back it will be a nice position for me."

Alan is looking for Bobby Zamora to produce another good performance after scoring against Coventry at the weekend and he adds:

"I think Bobby was excellent on Saturday in what he did for us.

"He is going to be a big player for us in the future and let's hope that game sets him off, because he can be the difference.

"It was important that we got the result under our belts against Coventry and we are well set now for the final three games.

"I put some senior players in the team like Steve Lomas and Kevin Horlock; they have been there and seen it before, so that probably helped.

"It was a big blow not to have Michael Carrick and Matthew Etherington recently so I felt we at least overcame that conundrum."

Alan wants maximum points from the last three games and adds:

"We need three wins and if we get that I am pretty sure we will finish fifth; that is the incentive and whatever it takes we are going to try and do it."

Alan acknowledges that there is a strong case for players who didn't start on Saturday to force their way into the side and he adds:

"Don Hutchison was terrific in the reserves the other night with Brian Deane so there is real competition in the squad.

"I have put a lot of work into Don and he has put a lot of work in himself; he is looking as good now as he has done ever since I have been here anyway.

"We might get to see him on the pitch but there are people in front of him at the moment and it is up to them to keep on doing the job they are doing - otherwise he will get introduced.

"He has had a tough time with injuries and so on, but you can't doubt his technical talents which could be a vital ingredient for us in these games that we are coming into now."

Alan reveals he had no problems with Marlon Harewood and David Connolly vying to take the penalty that was awarded against Coventry in the penultimate home game of the season and explains:

"There are various reasons why they both wanted to take it - and all of those are good reasons.

"We were just thankful that although we didn't put on the most free flowing performance we got the result - and go into these final three games rolling our sleeves up and giving it a good crack.

"You obviously want to perform well in front of your own fans, but it is not always the case, and we have had some tough games this year at home.

"The win was important and the recent home form has been good, though the Derby performance was disappointing.

"There were times when Coventry was disappointing as well, but the points total in the last five or six games at home has been very good."