“FOOTBALL is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better.”
So said Bill Shankly and when was he ever wrong? The great man’s wise words resonate even today, 40-plus years since he came out with this quote.
In that case, Newcastle United have only to keep to the simple things this evening when they take on Metalist Kharkiv in the Europa League.
All they need to do is win or get a score draw over 90 minutes in Ukraine and they are through. It’s not that complicated. It’s just quite difficult.
Anyway, when has anything to do with the club been straightforward?
It would be quite an achievement should Newcastle still be in Europe by the end of this match – but it is extremely possible.
Here are five things the players must do if they are to return home in a good mood.
1: MAKE THE MOST OF SET-PIECES FOR ONCE
NEWCASTLE’S scoring record from corners and free-kicks this season is, quite frankly, appalling.
An incredible amount of goals in European football come from such situations and yet Newcastle have carried little threat, especially from corner kicks.
United are a much bigger side than their opponents, who will concede fouls around the penalty area if last week’s match is anything to go by.
The likes of Yohan Cabaye must produce better delivery because this is one area where Metalist can be got at.
2: HELP OUT PAPISS CISSE
THE midfield needs to get much closer to Cisse and that means every midfielder.
While Moussa Sissoko has quickly become one of the team’s star men, he is the only one who consistently supports Cisse, who has at times looked desperately isolated in his role as a lone striker.
Yet in the first leg he could/should have scored a hat-trick – but that was because Sissoko and Cabaye consistently got up the park to help out. Given support, Cisse will create chances for himself and maybe this time the linesman will know the offside rule.
Leaving him miles from his own team-mates, and the No 9 is an empty jersey.
3: START WELL
YES, this comes straight from the school of the bleeding obvious, but one of the central keys to success in Europe is not conceding a goal early on.
Just ask Arsenal or Celtic. They were both behind after a few minutes and it put them up against the wall.
There will be 40,000 Metalist fans ready to make an awful lot of noise this evening. Taking a lead within 10 minutes would send them beyond delirious.
Yet if Newcastle can keep things tight for the first 10, 20, 30 minutes, the home side will become nervous and that gets to the players.
Of course, an away goal after 60 seconds would be nice.
4: KEEP THE DISCIPLINE - THAT MEANS YOU, CHEICK
GETTING through with 11 men will be difficult enough, so why make things even harder?
The Ukraine outfit are full of South Americans, and without wishing to resort to lazy stereotypes, they will try to win free-kicks all over the park.
The Newcastle players should accept this is a fact of life and try not to react, with Mr Tiote the one who must curb his temper.
The midfielder has apparently been booked for every 32 minutes he’s played in the Premier League this season. He cannot afford to do anything silly.
5: EVERYONE NEEDS TO TURN UP
TONIGHT in Kharkiv isn’t a night for any passengers.
One thing you can guarantee from this game is it will test Newcastle’s players from first to last minute, both mentally and physically.
In recent games one or two have not made any impact. Alan Pardew will most likely need 14 of his players to be at it.
That means all the attacking players must be willing to track back, and to take the game to Metalist.