Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew insists he has no hard feelings towards Newcastle United as he prepares to return to his struggling former club for the first time on Saturday.
Pardew claims he would love to see current Magpies boss Rafael Benitez lead Newcastle to safety as it battles to avoid relegation from the Premier League. But he could still get a frosty reception from Magpies supporters as he leads his side at St James' Park for the first time since leaving Newcastle to take charge at Selhurst Park in December 2014.
Pardew had a rollercoaster four years in charge in the North-East, earning the manager of the year award for orchestrating an impressive fifth-place finish in 2012, but leaving on a sour note after fans helped speed his demise by turning on the 54-year-old as results tailed off towards the end of a turbulent reign.
"I loved being manager of that club," Pardew said. "I had some fantastic moments there and fantastic games. We got to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, we finished fifth and I was manager of the year. We had some great moments and also had some difficult moments. A lot of the players there, I've been through a lot with those guys, on the pitch and off it too."
Second-bottom Newcastle is a point adrift of safety with three games remaining, having played a match more than its relegation rivals Sunderland and Norwich City.
Benitez is confident of staving off a second relegation in seven seasons and Pardew added: "Of course I want Newcastle to stay up, I'm desperate for them to stay up. But having said that, my job is to get three points for Palace and I can only be professional with my team. Emotionally I want them to stay in the division but that doesn't mean I want to let the teams around them down, because I wouldn't be doing my job."
"It's a very difficult club to manage, but think they've improved. Rafa's an experienced manager who has managed at the top of the game. He's got this team in a much better place to win this game and that worries me."
Pardew has this week enlisted the help of England rugby coach Eddie Jones to deliver a motivational talk to his Palace players, who will face Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 21.
The Eagles are one shy of the generally recognised 40-point target for top flight survival, and they are not yet mathematically safe with two relegation places to be filled to join Aston Villa in the Championship next season. The are likely to be without England midfielder Wilfried Zaha, who has a thigh muscle strain.
Newcastle look likely to have to win at least two of its three remaining games to avoid a repeat of its relegation in 2009 as it entertains a Palace side which has emerged victorious just once on Tyneside since 1971. After the Eagles, it travels to already relegated Villa and finishes its campaign at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
After gaining just one point in his first four matches in the wake of succeeding Steve McClaren last month, Benitez has led Newcastle to five in its last three to give it renewed hope of climbing out of the drop zone.
Newcastle has spent all but one week in the bottom three since the turn of the year, and the Spaniard said: "We know we can beat anyone, especially at St James' Park.
"If we show the same passion, character and intensity that we have in recent games, I think we will win matches. We need to believe because we've set the standard in the past few games and we need to keep it."
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