Pardew ready for step up in class
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is ready to launch a concerted bid for Europa League glory as he gears up for their toughest test to date.
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The 51-year-old has spent the campaign trying to manage the twin demands of domestic and continental competition while also coping with an injury crisis which has seen them flirt with the Barclays Premier League relegation zone.
However, returning casualties and an influx of French blood during the January transfer window significantly strengthened Pardew's hand ahead of Thursday night's last-32 clash with Ukrainian outfit Metalist Kharkiv, and Pardew is relishing the opportunity to finally attack the Europa League.
He said: "When we finished last year and we finished fifth [in the Premier League] and I looked at the team, we haven't really had that team to put out at any stage of this competition.
"Even against Bordeaux, I wouldn't say that was my best team, although we played well that night in the home game.
"Now I am back to a team that's very similar to the one I had last year in terms of strength and quality - Yohan Cabaye, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Moussa Sissoko - they have strengthened our hand, so for sure we are looking stronger in this competition.
"Hopefully we can get through this tie and if we get through this tie, and hopefully get a couple of favourable Premier League results, suddenly we can really look forward to it.
"But we are obviously going up a level in terms of opposition. No disrespect to Bordeaux, who won our group, but Metalist are a little bit stronger than them and this is a huge test for us."
Newcastle's early exit from the FA Cup means they have no fixture this weekend and accordingly Pardew will field a side which is "the strongest it can be".
That could mean a first start for former Montpellier defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and while there will be no Yoan Gouffran - who is both injured and cup-tied - or Hatem Ben Arfa, the manager is hopeful of taking a positive result to Ukraine next week.
Newcastle have not lost a home game in Europe in 11 attempts, and were last beaten at St James' Park in this competition by Monaco during the 1996-97 season, some 25 matches ago.
For goalkeeper Tim Krul, the emphasis will be on keeping a clean sheet - something the Magpies have done only once in their last nine outings in all competitions.
Krul said: "The Premier League is our main aim, of course, that's normal, but the Europa League is an exciting league to be in and especially for Newcastle United, it would be great to be in there for a long time.
"Of course, it's a massive game. First the home leg and then away next week, we have to be on top of our game straight away.
"Like you saw yesterday, Juve won 3-0 at Celtic and it looks like game over, so we have to be definitely straight away at the races."