Pardew: We're a lot stronger now
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is hoping a difficult season could yet end in glory.
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The Magpies head into Thursday night's Europa League second-leg clash with Metalist Kharkiv in Ukraine bidding for a place in the last 16, but still fighting to keep their heads above water in the Barclays Premier League.
Pardew's men face a vital league fixture against Southampton at St James' Park on Sunday, but he is confident the troubles of the first half of the campaign can be put firmly behind them to mount a genuine challenge on the European front.
The 51-year-old said: "There's a possibility that this could still be a great season.
"If I look at my best team, I would feel confident putting my best team up against any team left in this competition.
"I've not really had that opportunity. We are a lot stronger now. Therefore if we get through this tie, we have as good a chance as anyone else."
Newcastle's lowly Premier League position is a source of mystery to Metalist boss Myron Markevich, and Pardew was also questioned about the disparity between the current season and the last one, at the end of which they sat in fifth place in the table.
It is a question he has answered many times in recent months, but he is more convinced than ever that a corner has been turned.
He said: "We have been disrupted this year with a lot of our key players missing.
"Probably this is as strong as I have been with players that I have available. I feel we are a lot stronger than the league position suggests.
"We had a lot of things go our way last year to finish in fifth place, but it was an excellent momentum that we had gained.
"We became a side that was resilient - we haven't got that resilience this year.
"But there is a renewed belief in the squad from the introduction of the new players, particularly [Moussa] Sissoko, [Yoan] Gouffran and Mapou [Yanga-Mbiwa], who will play tomorrow.
"Therefore, our season will be determined by two things: firstly, progression in this competition and secondly, our Premier League position, which I think we can improve dramatically - hopefully."
Having drawn the first leg at St James' Park 0-0, Pardew concedes that Metalist could be regarded as slight favourites, but the fact a score draw at will send the Magpies into the draw is a cause for optimism.
He said: "We have come here to qualify. I think it is 50-50.
"The fact they did not score has given us a slight advantage but, of course, they are at home.
"Our game-plan is to score goals tomorrow."
Pardew landed in Ukraine this afternoon with the strongest possible squad available to him with only full-back Davide Santon, who is nursing a sore ankle, and midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa left behind along with the ineligible Mathieu Debuchy and Gouffran.
Frenchman Ben Arfa has been out of action for 10 weeks with a hamstring injury and, although he returned to training earlier this week after undergoing treatment at the French National Technical Centre in Clairefontaine, Pardew had no intention of risking him in Kharkiv.
He said: "It was a no-brainer really. He has only been with us for two days from Clairefontaine, who have put him in a fantastic physical condition for us.
"We are very pleased with their contribution and we thank them for that.
"It underlines the relationship we have in France, to have that faith to let Hatem do his recovery there, as we would if Yohan Cabaye or any of our senior players preferred that route. That's worked out well.
"He looks short of match-fitness, but we hope to get him up to speed perhaps for the next round, if we make it.
"Sunday might me be too early for him too, but certainly Swansea, I would be looking for him to have some sort of cameo role from the bench if he progresses well."