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The Magpies have not been able to replicate last season's domestic form and are still flirting with relegation, prompting some calls for Alan Pardew to forget about Europe

DEBATE

Newcastle's Europa League campaign rolls on as they travel for the second leg of their last-32 clash with Metalist Kharkiv on Thursday evening, following a goalless draw on Tyneside one week previously.

The Magpies reached the competition thanks to a fifth-placed Premier League finish last season, after spending plenty of the campaign threatening to go even further and snatch a spot in the Champions League.

However, that domestic form has not carried on into 2012-13 and Alan Pardew's side are currently just four points above the relegation zone, with 12 Premier League fixtures remaining.

With that in mind, Goal.com got two experts together to examine whether also featuring in continental competition is a hindrance or welcome distraction to the Toon.

"Anyone who thinks safety is assured is simply delusional"


By Matt Scott

Newcastle cannot afford to lose focus on what must be their sole aim going into the final stretch of the season – staying in the Premier League.

With tough fixtures still to come, including trips to Manchester City, Swansea City and West Ham (where many names of Magpies' past reside), Alan Pardew must suck up his pride and forget about competing in the Europa League to the fullest.

The domestic games that are currently set to come after European dates do not inspire confidence, particularly considering the club's record in fixtures played after their continental commitments so far this term (P8 W2 D1 L5).

The Toon have too much at stake to allow themselves to be distracted by the continental sideshow, which could result in fatigue or even injury to key players if they are risked.

LOONY TOON
PL games after EL ties
Newcastle United
Last 16 first leg
March 7
Stoke (H)
Last 16 second leg
March 14
Wigan (A)
QF first leg
April 4
Fulham (H)
QF second leg
April 11
Sunderland (H)
SF first leg
April 25
Liverpool (H)
SF second leg
May 2
West Ham (A)
Final
May 15
Arsenal (H)
This is especially vital considering how the side have suffered in the absence of the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Steven Taylor and Hatem Ben Arfa already in the campaign.

Anyone who thinks that safety is assured is simply delusional and should look to the precedent set in the 2008-09 season if they need reason to be alarmed.

While the campaign saw mass unrest at Mike Ashley's heavy-handedness leading to Kevin Keegan's resignation, a squad containing international stars such as Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins and current club captain Fabricio Coloccini should have pushed for the top six but completely failed to function and embarrassingly tumbled into the Championship.

The club's resurgence since that has been commendable but they must avoid the same complacencies that allowed it to happen.

It is a view held within the club too. Managing director Derek Llambias was at St James' Park during their 2009 relegation and is desperate to avoid a similar disappointment to that suffered just four years ago.

He told the Evening Chronicle: "If we are relegated, we'll have put ourselves back three or four years. That's not what the fans want. Do they want to go to Barnsley again? No, so we have to concentrate the Premier League."

Pardew will not be applauded for steering his side to a top-17 finish come mid-May, and the season should have never come to it, but it is the only target he should be setting for the club

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"Secure a tie against one of the big hitters at the very least"


By Andrew Kennedy

There is no doubt that Newcastle's exploits in the Europa League in the first half of this season, particularly towards the latter period of the group-stage campaign, accompanied a serious dip in the Magpies' Premier League form.

Yet the defeats to West Ham, Southampton and Fulham - all of which followed outings in Europe's secondary competition - were not solely the result of fatigue and stretched resources but also of the side's poor form since the beginning of the season.

It cannot be denied that added fixtures put strain on a squad woefully lacking in depth and quality, yet that charge is no longer applicable.

Not only have key first-team stars Steven Taylor and Yohan Cabaye made a timely return to action but they have been joined at St James' Park by a host of new additions.

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Moussa Sissoko's emphatic start to life in the North East has seen Cheikh Tiote, whose midfield displays have been lauded (rightly or wrongly) throughout his time in the Premier League, and summer signing Vurnon Anita forced to take a back seat since the turn of the year.

The lively performances of Yoan Gouffran since joining the club have not only curtailed the momentum which Sylvain Marveaux was building in a black-and-white shirt but will also provide a headache for Alan Pardew when Hatem Ben Arfa imminently returns from injury.

Since January's French revolution, there has been an undoubted upturn in Newcastle's domestic output - both in results and performance - and why should this not be reflected in the Europa League?

Were it not for two wrongly disallowed goals, Pardew's men would travel to Ukraine on Thursday with a deserved 2-0 advantage and a last-16 clash against either Anzhi Makhachkala or Hannover 96 firmly on the horizon.

Indeed, with such an abundance of options at St James' Park, last year's ailment could prove this year's remedy and Thursday nights will offer Pardew the ideal opportunity to rotate his squad and ensure that everyone is afforded their time to shine.

And if that is not reason enough, then surely their fans' six-year wait for European football, not to mention their endurance of 43 trophyless seasons, is just cause for Newcastle to give the Europa League their best shot and secure a tie against one of the continent's big hitters at the very least.

Follow Andrew Kennedy on
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