Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has told his players to relish the quest for a top-four finish 12 months after their successful battle for Premier League survival.
The Magpies head into Sunday’s home clash with Manchester United sitting in fifth place, two places and three points behind the visitors with 12 games remaining.
It is a far cry from the situation in which they found themselves at the same stage of the last campaign, when they went into the run-in with just 28 points banked – and 16 of those from the previous six games – and their top-flight status by no means secure.
Asked if he could enjoy the challenge, Howe said: “It’s certainly the better place to be than the other way around. I have to enjoy these moments and will try to enjoy.
“I love training, so I enjoy that part of it and yes, why not? Let’s try to enjoy it and relish every moment and embrace the challenge rather than in any way fear where we are.
“We are where we are on merit at the moment and we want more.
“When you’re battling relegation you know there’s a lot at stake – there’s people’s futures at stake, there are jobs of staff who rely on you to stay in the division, so you’re playing for other people’s futures, your own future and you realise the consequences of relegation.
“When you’re in this position, the pressure is just as intense, but in a slightly different way. Expectations rise and you try to keep up with that demand when you’re winning games.
“The pressure doesn’t feel any different when you’re sat in this seat.”
Victory this weekend would see the Magpies surpass last season’s points total of 49 with 11 games to go – they currently sit on 47 – and that would represent a significant achievement, although Howe and his staff are judging progress by a range of indicators rather than that alone.
He said: “I would say it would be the most important one. The points, ultimately, are what you play for.
“The game has gone statistic-mad, really, because we’re inundated with lots of data, lots of indicators of performance, lots of comparisons with us and other teams, so we use those as good markers for where we need to improve, areas that we’re really strong at.
“Statistically across the board, we’ve seen a big improvement from last year to this. Of course the challenge for us is to continue that as we move forward.
“The big thing that I had was we need to improve every aspect of our performance, as I say, using the data that we have. We’ve achieved that, then you hope that turns into points – but that is not always the case.”