Just a fortnight ago Newcastle United's clash with Benfica was quite rightly dubbed the biggest game at St James' Park for eight years.

In terms of stature it was the closest that United had come to the latter stages of winning a trophy since Graeme Souness' side had reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

We're always hearing football managers say that "every" match is a big one these days in the Premier League.

And from a financial point of view, they aren't wrong.

But with Newcastle knowing they can take a massive step to securing survival against Liverpool on Saturday, just where does this one rank and how much is it worth to the Magpies?

It's hard to believe that just a fortnight ago Newcastle United fans were still allowed to dream of heading off to the Europa League final in Amsterdam and the possibility of a top 10 finish.

But football moves fast, especially at St James' Park.

Suddenly Alan Pardew has found his role on the cast change from the man who could become the first since Joe Harvey to lift a trophy with black and white ribbons on it, to a man facing the fury of the Geordie public after losing a Tyne-Wear derby.

Newcastle United fans can be proud of themselves and their team after a European campaign that has put them back on the football map this season.

They may not have reached the pinnacle of the Europa League itself.

But they have bolstered their European history with a nine game haul and a nine month run in Continental competition to take their overall tally to 134 games - a record that supporters of most clubs would love to have.

For a moment on Sunday it was easy to forget that Papiss Cisse's injury time winner had only earned three points at St James' Park.

Given that Cisse could have had good reason to claim being tired (considering cramp victim Sylvain Marveaux was lying on the floor unable to move) he didn't half find the energy levels to leap into the Gallowgate End!

The number 9's reaction as he jumped into the crowd probably said it all as the Geordie crowd celebrated wildly before Alan Pardew also instinctively turned to the Toon faithful to make the most of the moment.

But the celebrations went on long after the final whistle and when Sunderland's result from Stamford Bridge also crackled over the PA system both Steven Taylor and Tim Krul - spotted hugging each other - were very much on the same wavelength as fans, knowing a huge step to survival had been taken.

It's a well known fact that football managers sometimes use media criticism to aid them in their team talk.

Down the years managers have pinned up paper cuttings in the dressing room and sometimes left their team talk at just that.

And for Alan Pardew here in Lisbon, he must have been rubbing his hands when Portuguese newspaper Record ran with a headline reading "Mission Impossible" when referring to United's chances of victory against Benfica.

The subject was raised in Pardew's Press conference today when he suggested the local papers had been "bullish" in their assessment of Benfica's chances.

Newcastle United will have the tag of underdogs yet again when they take on Benfica on Thursday night here in Lisbon.

The Magpies have been second favourites in both of their last two ties against Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala.

And they go into the game with former European champs Benfica unfancied by the bookies.

We've always known that Newcastle United have an excellent prospect in the shape of Northern Ireland international Shane Ferguson.

The only problem has been ensuring the 21-year-old gets enough game time on a first team stage.

It was all going so well for the lad from Derry in the early part of the season with Ferguson building up his experience with a cameo roles in the Premier League and his fair share of action in the Europa League - and there was evidence of the damage he can score with that sweet left foot.

Hatem Ben Arfa is regarded as one of the best players of his generation in France, of that there is no doubt.

At times in his career he's been hot-headed and at times he's been difficult to manage for the likes of Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc.

Throughout his career he's had bust-ups with Abou Diaby, Sébastien Squillaci and Djibril Cissé too.

He's endured injury problems and taken a few whacks from defenders living in fear along the way.

But given his sublime skill levels and ability to turn a dull game into three points all by himself, there's no doubt, he's worth the trouble and worth the perseverance.

Newcastle United will go into Saturday's away day at Manchester City with massive odds of 12/1 to win hanging over their heads.

The bookies rarely get it wrong but there is belief in the Toon camp that this could not be a better time to play the fallen champions.

Once Man City began trailing their bitter rivals Manchester United, I thought that we'd see the wounded animal come out in the Citizens and try to claw back some pride.

When John Beresford won a call-up to the England squad to face Turkey in 1993 the recognition was hailed by Kevin Keegan as a reflection of the whole club at the time.

Of course, Newcastle were flying high at the top of the old First Division and knocking on the door of the recently formed Premier League - but nevertheless Beresford's recognition for the Three Lions at that time was a novelty for the Magpies.

Yes in the days of the Second Division talk of an England call-up at Newcastle would have been dismissed as a sick joke, unless Mike Bassett had have been appointed of course.


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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