ALAN Pardew believes Hatem Ben Arfa could be Newcastle United’s late hero against Benfica as the manager predicted another special St James’ Park European night.
The Frenchman will be on the bench for the Europa League quarter-final second-leg against the in-form Portuguese giants and will be given the chance to make an impact as the Magpies attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit.
The home crowd has not seen Ben Arfa in action since the 1-1 draw with Maritimo on November 22, the player having been plagued by a troublesome hamstring for the past four months.
Pardew’s reverse psychology tactic of saying in public a few weeks ago that Ben Arfa’s season was over did work, and Newcastle’s playmaker has returned to full training both physically and mentally stronger.
The Newcastle manager said: “Ben Arfa has made an incredible recovery and will be involved against Benfica. He is somebody who could turn the game.
“We were conservative with our approach to his hamstring. We said, ‘that’s him done for this season’ and that was a good mindset for him to prove us wrong.
“He is now much stronger in his hamstring. It’s not fully repaired but the confidence is in his head that’s it’s done. He could be an influential figure towards the end of season and even in this game.
“Hatem has looked strong in training. He is much stronger than when he came back before. There was definitely a doubt in his mind with his hamstring. Sometimes it is about how confident you feel.”
But it is not all good news for Newcastle. Steven Taylor will miss this game with a knee problem, so there will be an unfamiliar-looking back-four of Danny Simpson, James Perch, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and either Massadio Haïdara or Jonás Gutiérrez at left-back. Cheick Tioté and Mathieu Debuchy return to training tomorrow and could be involved on Sunday, while captain Fabricio Coloccini has targeted the West Brom game in nine days. Pardew said: “I think we are a bit unfortunate because we are a couple of days away from having a fully fit squad, but will almost certainly have all the players back for Sunderland.
“We must try and win both games. It will be a special night against Benfica and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve tried to explain to our new guys what the derby and European nights are like and the fact they are as big as this.
“I don’t think they understand me, but they will soon find out.”
After the wild celebrations on Sunday following Cissé’s injury-time winner against Fulham, Pardew admitted that a similarly dramatic ending could leave him in tears at the end.
Which is different from finding himself in the bottom tier of the main stand with the supporters.
Pardew said: “My reaction was not something I pre-planned. Moussa Sissoko asked me the next day if I had scored? Maybe I should control my feelings better.
“You never know what will happen. The Dortmund coach (Jürgen Klopp) was in tears at the end of their game on Tuesday night. It is different when you achieve something. Trust me, it will be something very special if we can overcome this team, as they are really strong.
“(Will I be) In tears (if we do)? Possibly. In terms of performance, we just want to do the best we can.”
Pardew was in an upbeat mood yesterday and looked like a man who was enjoying the tests that lie ahead of him, first tonight and then on Sunday when Sunderland come calling.
But Benfica comes first and the manager is not interested in glorious failure. Pardew said: “We want to win by two goals and go through.”
NEWCASTLE United confirmed yesterday there will be no minute’s silence for Margaret Thatcher ahead of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
The Premier League has not asked clubs to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister and Newcastle will not do so.