Newcastle United will take on Anzhi Makhachkala on the 4g plastic pitch tonight at Moscow's fantastic Luzhniki Stadium.

The surface may be tricky and unpredicatable but Alan Pardew says he is well aware of the danger it poses.

Pardew was still a player when Oldham Athletic were almost unbeatable on plastic at Boundary Park.

It was Bobby Robson who once said that the only way to hit back at the critics was "through performance", nothing else.

Well Sammy Ameobi did exactly that on his debut for Championship play-off hopefuls Middlesbrough on Saturday against Cardiff City with a sparkling display and a goal at the Riverside.

It was a sweet ending to a week that had involved a barrage of unsavoury comments following the news that Ameobi had joined Boro on loan until the end of the season.


Newcastle United's passport coloured kit was supposed to offer us a celebration of the Magpies being back in Europe.

So far it has delivered only bad memories for the travelling Toon Army after their poor run of away form continued in sunny Swansea on Saturday.

United have yet to win in the kit - but we could be seeing it again before the season is out.

I won't name the player - but all you need to know was that he ran off the pitch in tears after giving everything he had physically and mentally in a black and white shirt for Newcastle United Under-18s in an FA Youth Cup tie after losing on penalties last year.

Once the news of Nile Ranger being released was finally confirmed, it was the first thing that sprung to mind after watching the Londoner idiotically squander the chance of a lifetime.

The story of the tears is very different to that of Ranger.

The tears I refer to came in a youth team game against Blackburn Rovers and for the many young Geordie hopefuls on show that night it represented their final chance of winning something for the Magpies before their release.

Most United fans can only dream what it would be like to pull on a black and white shirt and play for the Magpies.

But - on a chilly night at SJP last year - what was unfolding was the agony of a dream that was so close to the player, simply slipping away from his grasp.

Amidst the highways and byways behind the scenes of the Premier League circuit it is no big deal to see friendships forged between managers and players when following the fortunes of Newcastle United.

But there are times when you also require a double take when covering the Magpies in what can - at times - be a surreal world.

At the beginning, even being in the same queue for a pre-match cup of tea with John Motson makes you stand up and take notice at first.

STEVEN TAYLOR has insisted Newcastle United's French legion have got the stomach for tomorrow's big relegation battle with Southampton - especially now they have got over the Geordie culture shock and the hysteria of life in this football mad city.

The Whitley Bay lad - who is set to return to the starting XI against the Saints - is looking forward to United's French-themed party for the fans at St James' Park and is hoping that the Toon Army respond with a Chelsea-like atmosphere.

That day Moussa Sissoko helped raise the roof at the famous old stadium before confessing to Taylor along with Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy that they have never seen anything like the Geordies.

Taylor - himself a former season ticket holder at the Leazes End - told the Chronicle: "It is French day and we're looking forward to that.

AS NEWCASTLE United jetted in to Kharkiv on the eve of their season-defining Europa League tie with Metalist, the snowy scenery and wide open countryside of the former Soviet Union brought memories of Rocky IV flooding back.

In it Sly Stallone took on 6ft 5in giant Dolph Lundgren before beating him in the final showpiece.

But only after braving plummeting temperatures and getting over a culture shock. In the plot those scenes of Rocky Balboa training hard in the snow while residing in a log cabin proved enough to inspire him to victory despite being the underdog.

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.


Papiss Cisse may well have cut a frustrated figure as he left St James' Park after the 0-0 stalemate with Metalist Kharkiv.

But now is not the time to worry for the Newcastle United number 9.

Twice denied by the linesman's flag in the first leg of the Europa League tie with the Ukraine side , Cisse could also only watch on in agony as Metalist keeper Oleksandr Goryainov produced three top saves to keep this tie all square going into next week's second leg.

The Europa League will return to our lives again next week but even though Newcastle United's clash Metalist Kharkiv takes place on Valentine's night there doesn't seem to be much love around in football for a much maligned tournament that to many is in serious need of review.

Don't get me wrong, Geordies love their European nights - not least the away days that gives fans the chance to see some of the Continent,

And with a record of 128 games in European competition they have had plenty of practice.

This week the future of the Europa League has been up for debate again, many observers think it is too long winded, has too many games, has bad scheduling and doesn't get the imagination going until the latter rounds.


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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