Hatem Ben Arfa

Mick Lowes has long been the voice of the Magpies on BBC Radio Newcastle, and every fortnight he writes an exclusive blog for nufc.co.uk. Here he explains why Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse could make all the difference in the final few games, and makes the case for Alan Pardew to win the manager of the season award...

Last weekend's game against Liverpool was billed as 'the battle for sixth' - but in the end, it hasn't really turned out that way with Everton now leapfrogging their Merseyside rivals into seventh, but still ten points behind the Magpies.

But all the same, to beat a side of the quality and calibre of Liverpool by two goals is further evidence of just how far Newcastle have came this season and nobody could have asked for a better performance (aside from the first 20 minutes) or result. Once Papiss Cisse got the opening goal of the game, United grew in confidence, backed by another massive crowd, and won the game comfortably.

Cisse's two goals took him to seven in his first six starts for the club, and that's a phenomenal record by anyone's standards. Only Wayne Rooney has scored more goals in the division than the Senegalese striker since he made his debut for Newcastle in February and that's a measure of how big an impact he's had on the league as a whole, not just on Newcastle United.

And with the way Cisse is playing, added to the recent performances of Hatem Ben Arfa - bearing in mind how little we've seen of them both for differing reasons this term - it's almost like having two new players for the run-in.

All of a sudden we're armed with a lethal striker who is unknown to the Premier League in many ways and wants to make a point, and a hugely talented Frenchman who I think by own his admission is finally coming to terms with what English football's all about. He's fresh, he's hungry and he's playing some fabulous stuff.

So the run-in has not only been helped by results but also by the performances of those two individuals who I suspect at this moment in time won't want the season to end. Yet in many ways, I believe they hold the key to exactly where we'll finish at the end of the campaign.

At this stage of any season, you generally find that teams flag. They start suffering from fatigue, whether it is physically or mentally. But if anything, on the basis of the last three games, Newcastle are finishing stronger than they have for a long, long time.

They're not distracted by cup competitions like one or two others around them. They're focused on what they need to do and I think they've got a very good attitude in that they just seem as a unit to be happy to go out, try to win games and wherever they finish, they finish. Whatever will be, will be.

They're not setting themselves the targets or putting themselves under the pressure that other clubs have - and it must be said that they've been helped by some very brave tactical changes that have been made by the manager, including going with three strikers for the last two games.

And as thoughts begin to turn to end of season accolades, there's no doubt in my mind - particularly if Newcastle finish in a European spot but even if they just miss out - that Alan Pardew has to have a very, very big case for being the Premier League's manager of the year.

If you look at those in managerial positions above United, they're more or less going to achieve what they were expected to achieve.

I would throw into the mix the job that Brendan Rodgers has done at Swansea, and the sterling efforts of one or two other managers have done further down the table. But in terms of real achievements this season, I think Alan Pardew is undoubtedly a contender.

As for Newcastle's player of the season, even at this moment in time you couldn't really call it. There's a group of three or four and it may well be that one emerges between now and the end of the season, because there have been so many stand-out performances by a good few players.

And as I've mentioned, with Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa there are one or two who still haven't finished yet!

We're now going into the ever-important Easter period. Because the Chelsea game has been moved to the end of the season, meaning United finish with Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton, a lot of people have seen that as a negative thing as it makes our finish to the season that little bit more difficult.

I would argue the other way. With home games against Bolton and Stoke and an away game at Wigan, Newcastle have got the opportunity to pick up points - as long as they can continue their current momentum - and steal a march on those who are also competing for those top six places.

You'd much rather have the points on the board than the games in hand.

Finally, I'd like to thank Alan Pardew on behalf of Dunston UTS, one of the North-East's two FA Vase finalists, for giving up his time at the Lancastrian Suite a couple of weeks ago for a talk-in which I compered.

A fantastic evening was had by all and it was much appreciated by not only those at Dunston, but the 700 or so Newcastle fans who enjoyed a great evening with the manager.