Alan Pardew woke up yesterday to sections of the Portuguese media declaring the task facing his side against Benfica in the Europa League a Mission Impossible. North-east managers and headlines are proving inseparable right now, but at least this one was about football.
Pardew faces a task of his own, but it will be about actions, rather than words. There was always a feeling Europe's second competition would get serious once it reached the last-eight stage. That time is now upon Newcastle.
Benfica's record is daunting. They have lost only twice in any competition this season, against Spartak Moscow and Barcelona in the Champions League. They have won 20 of their 24 Primeira Liga games, and stand at its summit, four points clear of Porto and 19 ahead of third-place Pacos Ferreira.
They have won their last 10 games. In the last four games they have scored 18 goals. In all competitions this season they have scored 102 goals. It is April 2012 since they lost a league game.
To that, and the majestic Stadium of Light, come a Newcastle side with injuries to key players – Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa – and successive defeats away from home at Wigan and Manchester City.
They have won only twice on their travels this season, but it is six hours and 17 minutes since they conceded a goal in Europe and there is a confidence that has grown through the 12-game run that has kept their season alive.
"In football there is never a mission impossible," said Pardew. "We acknowledge that it is a tough taskfor us to come here and get a victory but we can get a good result and there's a difference because it's a two-legged game and we have a good record in that. I enjoy that fact, I think it works better for the way we work, but we need to give ourselves a chance for next Thursday.
"When you play a team who are on such a roll as Benfica are, it's always difficult. They have great momentum and that confidence breeds its own success. It's a difficult game for us, we're under no illusions about that, but I think that at St James' Park we can beat anybody.
"I think our team is a strong team. It's got the confidence to progress in this competition, even as good as the opposition are. We hope to put a spoke in their wheels."
(© Independent News Service)
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