ALAN Pardew has told his back four to play it again in Ukraine as he hinted at retaining the strongest possible defence in Thursday’s crunch second-leg tie at Metalist Kharkiv.
Newcastle are heading towards a critical week in their campaign balancing the dual targets of progress in the Europa League and securing victory in the most important home game of the season so far.
The arduous trip to the freezing far east of Ukraine comes first on Thursday and, after a frustrating draw last week, Pardew knows that the tie is balanced on a knife-edge.
In an ideal world he would have looked to build up an advantage and ring the changes in Kharkiv but his dilemma is now whether to stick with a similar XI and risk fatigue for the visit of Southampton on Sunday, or whether to proceed as planned with possible changes to the team in the Ukraine.
Pardew has dropped his most significant hint yet that he will retain the same starting defence of Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Davide Santon.
“I thought we defended superbly in the first leg on Thursday night, and repeating that is going to be the key over there.
“In the whole of the first game, I thought we only really gave up one clear chance, and Tim (Krul) was able to snuff that out pretty quickly in the first half.
“We were defensively sound all evening, and even though they tried to catch us on the break in numbers, we prevented them from doing that fairly well. The second game will be different, but defensively we’ll have to be just as good.
“I thought Steven Taylor and Colo in particular were terrific, and Mapou did a really good job on his first start. We’ll have to take that into the second leg.” Although Premier League survival remains the absolute priority, Pardew is guarded against the idea that European football is a distraction.
He will have Yoan Gouffran back in training today with an eye on the Saints game, although Hatem Ben Arfa’s return remains touch and go for United.
Whatever the team, Pardew (pictured left) knows that two wins in quick succession would turn around Newcastle’s season. “Of course I’ll be disappointed if we don’t go through,” he said.
“You never want to lose a game, no mater who the opposition are, and we certainly won’t want to be losing the second leg. But we don’t want to lose against Southampton either. We want to win both games, and that’s what we’ll attempt to do.
“I’ll have to look very closely at the squad to make sure we put the right time out in Ukraine and the right team against Southampton.” Metalist will provide a stern examination of United’s New Year revival, and Pardew is braced for another tough tie out in Ukraine.
“There was no real surprise in terms of how well they played in the first leg. They were fresh and they played with enthusiasm. They played well for long periods, although I don’t really think we could have played much better either,” he said.
“As a country, we don’t know a lot about Ukrainian football because our television coverage is saturated by the Premier League and La Liga. But the quality of Metalist was there for everyone to see in the first game.”
For Yanga-Mbiwa, it is almost certain that he will start the game and he sees the Europa League as a winnable competition.
“I think this competition is important for the whole squad, we all want to advance and progress in Europe,” he said.
“We want to win the trophy because that way we will be able to play in Europe again next season.
“I think the squad is very competitive – it’s not just a strong first XI, but everyone who sits on the bench too. Everyone wants to win.”