ALAN Pardew is convinced that his Newcastle United side are good enough to win the Europa League – and will encourage supporters to “dream” of glory in Amsterdam when they turn up at a febrile St James’ Park tonight.
United’s last-16 tie with Anzhi Makhachkala is delicately poised after a goalless first leg in Moscow – but Pardew believes his team have the momentum, the confidence and most importantly the ability to see off one of the strongest teams left in the competition.
It is a bold statement and one that the United boss makes even without the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa to call on tonight.
Pardew was keen to play down the potential long-term absence of Ben Arfa, but the France forward missed training yesterday and will sit out the Anzhi clash as United look to get to the bottom of his long-standing hamstring injury.
Shola Ameobi is also carrying a knock but is expected to make his 50th European appearance at some point this evening, quite a milestone for the striker – who has an uncanny knack of scoring important goals in Europe. He will be needed because, as Pardew admits, Anzhi restricted them to little in the way of offensive impact on the game in Russia.
It is a measure of Pardew’s confidence that he believes his team will have enough to get past Guus Hiddink’s strong Anzhi team without Ben Arfa, and that he didn’t balk when asked whether he would blame supporters for starting to believe that this competition could offer a route into history for United’s class of 2013.
“We’ve had a tough season so it’d be nice for the fans to think of the possibility that we could win this trophy. I think we can, I genuinely do. I’ve seen the other teams and I see no reason that we can’t,” he said.
“You need a few things to drop for you, the example was Tuesday night when AC Milan had the chance on 42 minutes.
“If that chance goes in, suddenly that result is not what it was this morning. You need those little slices of luck to go your ways, but I’ve looked at the other teams left and we can win it.
“We’ve got enough quality and enough players fit. Whereas in the past, in the FA Cup and League Cup this year, we had to
play sides that weren’t good enough for this club. This side is good enough to win the trophy and we hope to prove that. We know we’re up against some good opposition this time.”
With Newcastle pushing for a place in the quarter-finals, they are hoping for a bumper crowd. Pardew has encouraged fans to “unleash” the kind of noise that makes it difficult for visiting teams.
“It’s a strange one for Anzhi I’m sure they would like the Moscow stadium full to put extra pressure on players to play to a high level,” he said. “It might be that our crowd inspires them, but on the other hand they could intimidate them.
“It’s up to us to keep the level of attacks to get the crowd going to unleash the kind of noise and atmosphere that no team can deal with.”
Meanwhile, Pardew has played down worries that Ben Arfa’s absence could be a long-term one - predicting a possible return at Wigan on Sunday teatime. He also said the team was in a good enough place to win without one of their most talented players. “Only he could answer how he’s had to cope with that, but I think he’s in a good place at the moment,” Pardew said.
“The injury is one we have to be very careful with because more important is his welfare going forward so we don’t take any risks. He’s had a strain so he could be involved as early as Wigan so the alarm bells aren’t ringing.
“There’s nothing untoward and if I’m honest him missing isn’t going to impact greatly on the game; the side is in a good place, we can beat them without him.”