Whisper it quietly, but the words Newcastle United and the Champions League are being uttered in the same breath once more, by non other than Toon boss Alan Pardew.
Speaking after his side’s 1-0 win away at Manchester United, the Magpies manager didn’t exactly shout the prospect from the rooftops, but equally hinted a top four finish is within reach.
Speaking to David McDonnell at Mirror Football, the 52-year-old, whose team are just three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, gave a guarded response to talk of a seat at Europe’s top table.
"I'm not saying ‘no’,” said the former West Ham man when pressed on his side’s credentials. “I just think it's the situation where if all the top teams are beating each other, it gives us an opportunity.
“All we've got to do is make sure we keep playing, get to April, and hopefully we'll be in the mix.”
After their first victory at Old Trafford for 41 years, such confidence is understandable.
The nature of their triumph in the North-West—a mixture of controlled possession and stifling pressing—suggests the Toon have found a formula to cope with life in the top-half of the table.
This was no fluke, and even before Yohan Cabaye’s decisive finish just after the hour mark, Pardew’s men more than held their own against the reigning champions.
In Cabaye and Cheick Tiote, the Geordies house two of the most influential midfielders in the division, while the temporary signing of Loic Remy has proved to be pivotal.
Concerns remain over the depth of the squad—a factor which could make or break their ambitions if the right areas are not reinforced during next month’s transfer window.
Whether or not owner Mike Ashley will authorise another spree in the January sales remains to be seen, but having brought in six new faces last winter, hopes of another wave of signings remain high.
One huge positive, however, is Newcastle’s starting XI. With a full compliment of players at his disposal, as they have proved that on a number of occasions, Pardew’s first-choice line-up is a match for anyone.
Where they end up this season will ultimately depend on their consistency and confidence as well as luck when it’s needed, in the injury and suspension stakes.
But with the right amount of investment, and the continued stuttering of the teams around them, the Magpies will have every right to be looking upwards towards the hallowed top four in the New Year.