Shola Ameobi gives Newcastle reason to believe
Metalist Kharkiv 0 Newcastle United 1 (Newcastle win 1-0 on aggregate)
Alan Pardew is confident Newcastle can mount a genuine challenge for Europa League glory after passing the sternest of tests in Kharkiv.
The Magpies arrived in Ukraine having been held to a 0-0 draw by Metalist Kharkiv on Tyneside last week and knowing the balance of the tie had shifted slight in the favour of their hosts. But despite losing midfielder Cheick Tioté to illness an hour before kick-off, they turned in a fine away display to win 1-0, only their second success on the road in all competitions this season, and progress to the last 16.
Now Pardew, who has laboured through much of the campaign with a depleted squad, is hoping the return of key men from injury and the addition of his five January signings can allow them not only to climb away from the relegation zone, but also extend their European adventure.
Pardew said: "It's an important result for us. We lost Cheick just before the game, but Vurnon [Anita] did an excellent job coming in late. He only knew an hour before we kicked off that he was going to play.
"With [Hatem] Ben Arfa coming back and Cheick to add to that side, I really feel as though we can give this competition a good go."
Newcastle won the tie with 26 minutes remaining when striker Shola Ameobi, who had admitted in advance he would be taking the spirit of former manager Sir Bobby Robson with him to Ukraine, was presented with the opportunity to fire the Magpies into the next round.
Robson, who would have been 80 on Monday, would have been delighted to see him nervelessly convert from the spot despite having to wait several minutes in icy temperatures as Moussa Sissoko, who had been fouled by keeper Olexandr Goryainov to win the penalty, underwent treatment.
But Newcastle still needed three excellent saves by keeper Tim Krul, who left the stadium on crutches after a challenge by striker Jonathan Cristaldo, to deny substitute Willian and Cristaldo with Metalist fighting desperately as the clock ran down.
Pardew revealed that he had challenged Ameobi to raise his game before kick-off and got just the response for which he was looking as he claimed his 15th goal in European competition, a feat bettered only by Alan Shearer in a black and white shirt.
He said: "I had a little quiet word with Shola before the game because, in the last few weeks, I thought his contribution could have been greater.
"But he's shown tonight what quality he has. Against this team, I always thought he might influence the game. He did that all night really and it bodes well moving forward."
Newcastle had two Papiss Cissé goals disallowed in the first leg, but swallowed their disappointment and came out fighting at the Metalist Stadium. However, asked by a Ukrainian journalist whether luck had played a part in the tie, Pardew replied without a hint or irony: "I thought we were very unlucky in the first leg."
He added: "We had some real heroes today and it's been a great week for us. We just need to repeat it on Sunday [against Southampton] because that will be an important game."
Man of the match Shola Ameobi.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee S Gumienny (Bel).
Belfast Telegraph Digital