NEWCASTLE United’s flirtation with Europe should develop into a full-blown romance this autumn after the Europa League group draw handed Alan Pardew’s men some very appealing away days.
United’s reward for defeating Greek side Atromitos was to be placed with Bordeaux, Bruges and Maritimo in a competitive but accessible group stage draw.
All three will be challenging but, given one of Pardew’s concerns was the amount of travelling his team will have to do, the draw has been kind to his squad and the club’s supporters – who are sure to travel in numbers.
The draw in Monaco contained trips which would have been a logistical nightmare for Pardew and the supporters, who responded well to the club’s return to Europe with a 29,242 crowd at St James’ Park on Thursday.
Pardew said: “The travelling was the big thing for me as a manager and logistically I was pleased with that draw.
“Now it is about the quality of the teams, which I haven’t studied, and hopefully I’m not going to be too shocked when I do.
“We should be able to get our fans there and that’s a big bonus. Bordeaux is a great city, Bruges is and I think our fans might like Madeira as well. I think they’ll be pretty happy about it, and that’s what it’s all about. We haven’t played these three teams before so it’s all new, which is great.
“I will be very privileged to be managing this team at those three grounds.”
Pardew will now instruct his scouting teams to compile detailed dossiers on United’s Euro opponents, who all have good pedigree in their domestic leagues and will provide a stern examination of the credentials of Newcastle’s young players.
Although they are the fourth seeds, the United manager has already picked out Maritimo as the group’s dark horses.
He added: “I’ve been to Bruges to watch games, I haven’t been to Bordeaux or to Madeira.
“That’s a little bit off the map for me. I know Portugal well in terms of the level because I scouted a lot there when I was at Charlton and West Ham and Portuguese football is always strong.”
Pardew has been unashamed in his admission he will continue to use the competition to blood through some of his younger players.
That means supporters can expect similar sides to the one which stepped out against Atromitos in the six group games.
Asked to justify that, Pardew said pushing the squad closer to the Champions League places is the aim for this season – although Europa League experience will be very helpful.
He said: “Let’s just say who is going to be most affected by the competition? Probably the owner and me – we’re the two who really, really matter.
“For him, the finance of the club and the growth of the club is all about the Champions League and it is for me, too.
“The glory of winning it (the Europa League), I’m sure Mike Ashley would love to be in the Amsterdam Arena with his Newcastle shirt on looking to us to win it.
“However, it’s been a long time since we’ve been there and a lot of my team have no experience of Europe – we showed that on Thursday night.
“We are naive at times, but we’ll grow into it, hopefully. This draw gives us the chance to do it.
“We’ve escaped a little bit in the draw, and hopefully we can gain experience.”
GROUP D FIXTURES
Thursday, September 20 - Maritimo v Newcastle United (6pm kick-off).
Thursday, October 4 - Newcastle United v Bordeaux (8.05pm).
Thursday, October 25 - Newcastle United v FC Bruges (8.05pm).
Thursday, November 8 - FC Bruges v Newcastle United (6pm)
Thursday, November 22 - Newcastle United v Maritimo (8.05pm)
Thursday, December 6 - Bordeaux v Newcastle United (6pm).
(All times BST). Source: nufc.co.uk.
Group A: Liverpool, Udinese, Young Boys, Anzhi
Group B: Atletico Madrid, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Plzen, Academica
Group C: Marseille, Fenerbahce, Borrusia M’Gladbach, AEL Limassol
Group E: Stuttgart, FC Copenhagen, Steuau Bucuresti, Molde
Group F: PSV Eindhoven, Napoli, Dnipro, AIK Solna
Group G: Sporting, FC Basel, Genk, Vidoeton
Group H: Inter Milan, Rubin Kazan, FK Partizan, Neftci
Group I: Lyon, Athletic Club, Sparta Prague, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona
Group J: Tottenham Hotspur, Panathinaikos, Lazio, Maribor
Group K: Bayer Leverkusen, FC Metalist Kharkiv, Rosenborg, Rapid Vienna
Group L: FC Twente, Hannover, Levante, Helsingborgs