Alan Pardew believes Newcastle's next six Premier League games will determine whether they are serious contenders for a European spot this season.
The Magpies have proved the surprise package of the top-flight this term, with 12 wins from 26 games, playing what the manager describes as a "fast brand of front-foot football", leaving them sixth in the table heading into the business end of the campaign.
Pardew's men remain firmly in the running for a Europa League spot, while the Champions League is not beyond their reach with fourth-placed Arsenal just three points ahead.
But the manager insists he will wait to see where Newcastle are after their next six encounters, which include a trip to Emirates Stadium and a visit of Liverpool, before turning his attention to the European places.
"We are not focused on that," Pardew told The Telegraph.
"We are focused on the next six games because if we are in the running for a top six place in six games' time then we will really give it a go - whether that's the Europa League or even the Champions League.
"But the next six games are key. Now is the time when the top teams get into gear, so are we going to get into gear?"
The presence of key players such as striking ace Demba Ba and midfield stars Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote has proved crucial in Newcastle's successful campaign.
But after losing talismanic Andy Carroll to Liverpool last winter, Pardew knows keeping hold of his top players could be a struggle.
"If I can keep the same group of players I wouldn't worry [about raising expectations]," he added. "But will I be able to keep my best team?
"We are vulnerable to bigger clubs and you can't get away from that with the salaries they offer."
Pardew's next test with Newcastle comes at home to Sunderland, who have enjoyed a resurgence under manager Martin O'Neill to sit ninth in the table, 10 points behind the Toon.
The Magpies boss knows bragging rights are at stake in Sunday's derby but insists finishing above the Black Cats is not a priority.
He said: "They are probably looking at our results and we are looking at theirs but it's not about Newcastle finishing above Sunderland.
"For me, it's about finishing higher than we did last year, to progress and have a great season."
Pardew hailed the work Sunderland counterpart O'Neill has done at the Stadium of Light since taking charge last December, adding: "He's done an unbelievable job.
"I saw him a couple of times in a social environment before he went to Sunderland and I thought he looked ready to return. Taking the job has inspired him."