Alan Pardew and Papiss Cisse

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 offers his opinions on a season which will long be remembered on Tyneside no matter what happens, and wonders where United will go from here...

To go into the final weekend of the season with a chance of Champions League qualification is beyond everybody's wildest dreams - but confirmation that Newcastle can now finish no lower than fifth this term is an amazing statement in itself.

I spent much of the mid-part of the season talking to Alan Pardew about the Magpies potentially being 'the best of the rest' - the highest-placed finishers outside of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool.

But now it's guaranteed that we will finish in the top five and that is a phenomenal achievement. I really thought that the best we could have hoped for was breaking into that top seven, but to finish above Liverpool, bearing in mind their investment, and Chelsea is a real coup.

And the top four is still there for Newcastle. They have got the most difficult of the three fixtures, though: David Moyes' Everton at Goodison Park and I have absolutely no doubt that the Toffees will be hell-bent on winning and winning well. That's the sort of football club they are and the type of manager Moyes is.

Don't forget, too, that there's the small matter of finishing top dogs on Merseyside as well so I certainly believe an away game at Everton is harder than Arsenal going to West Brom or Tottenham entertaining Fulham - but the Premier League this season has never ceased to amaze us and, in many ways, nothing would be a surprise.

The knock-on effects of Champions League qualification are immense in terms of finance and profile, but I do think that might be for another day. However, to be certain of playing in Europa League and finishing above Liverpool and Chelsea is a huge, huge achievement.

Of course, it's all well and good doing so well this season, but can it be maintained, cemented and hopefully built on next season?

Planning and preperation will already be underway for that next campaign, and on the basis of his relatively short time at the club one thing is for sure... Alan Pardew and his staff will be 100 per cent prepared come August.

United won't 'fly under the radar' as they have this season while existing players' strengths and weaknesses will be better known to opponents; will Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse get the weight of goals - back to back - that they've bagged this season? And then the biggest question of all: can we keep this squad together?

I don't think anybody can guarantee that. Last summer Phil Jones, who I'm sure Blackburn would've dearly loved to have kept hold of, was tempted away to Manchester United and Ashley Young and Stewart Downing left Aston Villa for bigger clubs. The top teams will always look to cherry pick the best talent and so the summer ahead will not only be about who Newcastle can sign, but who they're able to keep.

To give you an idea of how difficult it can be to stay among the elite, even after a great season, you only have to look at Sunday's opponents Everton over the years. Their fluctuating form proves how difficult it can be to keep the momentum going.

In 2003, the Toffees finished seventh - having finished 15th the season before. The following season, they finished 17th then the year after that they came fourth, and reached the Champions League! They finished 11th the next year before coming sixth the year after that!

Evidence you can never take your eye off the ball. That said, European football - be it Champions League or Europa - will help Alan Pardew to keep players and to attract them too.

And Newcastle might just find themselves in a 'head start' position when it comes to chasing targets in the summer, being able to offer not only European but regular first-team football. Many of the clubs in and around us can't necessarily do that.

The Manchester City and Uniteds of this world can rarely say to players that they'll definitely have a first-team place. Yes, they can boast Champions League football - but a percentage of their new signings could end up restricted to Carling Cup football. Either way, Newcastle United are now in a much, much better place when it comes to persuading players to come to Tyneside than they were last summer.

Of course, we all want to know who Pardew will be looking to bring in - and we might get a better idea on Friday when he, along with John Carver, comes into the BBC Newcastle studio.

They'll be there between 7pm and 8pm taking calls and texts from the fans as a 'thank you' to the supporters so I hope you can listen in on the radio or online.