Newcastle United have had their struggles this season, but they could yet end 2012-2013 with a first piece of major silverware since 1955.
Alan Pardew’s side were the surprise package of last season, mounting a sustained charge for the Champions League before narrowly missing out.
It was always going to be difficult to top last year’s fifth-place finish, but Pardew would have been expecting a campaign of consolidation rather than a fight to avoid a return to the Championship.
Newcastle can point to injuries and a fair share of bad luck this term. Buoyed by the return of key players and a whole host of new signings, Newcastle will comfortably retain their Premier League status. Instead, they should be focusing on enjoying success in Europe.
Newcastle’s case was not helped by a couple of questionable decisions in the first leg of last week’s Europa League last-32 tie against Metalist Kharkiv. Papiss Cisse could count himself unfortunate not to have a brace to his name and Newcastle a commanding first-leg lead.
Pardew said: “When you see the two replays, it really does hurt.”
Newcastle must quickly put the disappointment behind them and prepare for a tough second leg in Ukraine on Thursday.
The statistics and live betting odds suggest Metalist are hot favourites to book a last-16 meeting with either Anzhi Makhachkala or Hannover 96. While Newcastle failed to win on their travels in the group stage, Metalist won all three home games and conceded only one goal.
One goal could be enough for Newcastle in the second leg. The frustration of the disallowed goals at St James’ Park should be countered by the fact they kept it tight at the other end.
The away goals rule will be the Magpies’ biggest ally in Kharkiv as they look to keep their European dream alive.