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Newcastle United can't afford to freeze in ice cold Kharkiv

By Lee Ryder on Feb 21, 13 09:53 AM


The last time Newcastle United crashed out of a European competition they did so on away goals in Holland against AZ Alkmaar.

A lot of people say that there is no worse way to lose a game then on penalties, but trickling out of a tournament on away goals is equally as choking.

Back then Glenn Roeder's side thought they'd done the hard work in the first half of the first leg and went in 4-1 up at the break.

kark0970.jpg

A three goal cushion would arguably have been enough to steer them through but they lost concentration and crashed out, losing the second leg 2-0 and so finding themselves dumped out on away goals.

Here in Kharkiv it could very well go the other way with Metalist failing to take advantage of away goals last week.

But unlike United's class of '07, the Magpies can't underestimate the men from Ukraine.

Having had a tour of the stadium last night Metalist's ambition to push on and be a force in Europe is there for all to see.

This is no crumbling eastern European venue.

It is up there with the top stadia in France, Spain, Holland, Italy or the Premier League.

Alan Pardew's men trained in the freezing cold temperatures last night as it hit minus 4 in Kharkiv.

This may not be the biggest fixture on the card in terms of European football this week.

But for United and Metalist, the importance of tonight's clash is massive.

Newcastle's season is over if they lose and Metalist themselves feel they need to win to continue bolstering their European reputation.

Yet it will be far from easy for the Magpies and Pardew.

In intimidating surroundings they will have to lean on every scrap of experience they have.

An away goal is crucial, score one and the game can't go to extra time or penalties - and then they can start making one or two game-time decisions to see how they put Metalist to the sword.

I always remember the mood when Newcastle went out in Alkmaar six years ago.

It was understandably flat and there was a feeling of "what might have been" as a great opportunity slipped through their fingers.

It set the tone for a poor end to a season with nothing to play for.

And the mood spiralled so low that Roeder was dismissed by Freddy Shepherd who later opted to bring in Sam Allardyce before the Mike Ashley era kicked in.

Now with a fresh team and what at least seems like a plan of action in terms of bringing in French talent from Ligue 1, the mood might not be so down if they go out.

However, there will be major disappointment.

In a season where the Europa League has been blamed for crippling the squad with injuries, it would be a bitter pill to swallow if an exit was caused by having to focus on Premier League survival.

It is a Catch 22 situation in many ways.

But even then, Newcastle's season could also be just 90 minutes away from covering themselves in glory by booking a place in the last 16.

The skies may have been grey over the Metalist stadium last night, but for Newcastle life is never, ever, dull is it?

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Lee Ryder

Lee Ryder - Proudly born and bred on Tyneside, the Chronicle's chief sports writer has followed the fortunes of the club over the last three decades as a Toon fan and football writer.

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