Alan Pardew woke up yesterday to sections of the Portuguese media declaring the task facing his side against Benfica in the Europa League as "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 club 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 of third place Pacos Ferreira. They have won their last 10 games on the trot. In the last four games they have scored 18 goals. In all competitions this season they have scored 102 goals. April 2012 was the last time 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 also won only twice on their travels in the season's entirety but it is six hours and 17 minutes since they conceded a goal in European competition, 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 task for 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.
"This is the decider in terms of how difficult that's going to be. We need to put on a performance where we can take something back to St James' Park to give us a chance. We certainly need to give ourselves a chance.
"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."
Newcastle, and Pardew especially, have needed the Europa League to keep prying eyes from looking too closely at a disappointing league campaign. A verdict cannot come until the competition for them has run its course.
"The competition has brought some welcome relief to what has been a sticky Premier League campaign," added Pardew. "We still suffer from injuries as we enter this game. We're missing big players and we've missed those big players all year.
"I think we have got the confidence and the quality to ensure our safety in the Premier League regardless of injuries.
"Our fans have been consistently brilliant and they'll bring a nice atmosphere here tomorrow to the city. I don't think we need it to be more of an occasion with this stadium and this club."
Brilliant Benfica: Club in numbers
102 Goals scored, in all competitions, by Benfica this season - topped by Oscar Cardozo (27)
18 The club have found the net 18 times in their last four matches, beating Rio Ave 6-1 last weekend
10 Consecutive victories for Benfica - dating back to 14 February
Benfica v Newcastle
Kick-off 8.05pm, Stadium of Light
Referee A Gautier (Fr)
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