Roeder hands Luque chance to close on second phase

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The Independent Online

Albert Luque will be given the chance to impress in Sicily tonight as Newcastle United attempt to ease towards the knockout stages of the Uefa Cup.

The Spaniard is the main beneficiary of an injury crisis which has wrecked Glenn Roeder's plans for the tie against Palermo.

A 23-man party jetted out of Newcastle International Airport yesterday with £10m signing Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi and Michael Owen left behind in the treatment room and Giuseppe Rossi ineligible to play in Europe.

That leaves Roeder with only Luque, Antoine Sibierski and youngster Andy Carroll to face the Serie A high-fliers, and he has confirmed the £9.5m signing from Deportivo La Coruña last year will start at the Renzo Barbera Stadium.

Luque has started only two games this season, the 1-1 Intertoto Cup draw with Lillestrom in July, in which he scored, and the 0-0 Uefa Cup draw with Ventspils in August, but now has a chance to make his mark again.

Roeder said: "Albert Luque will start tomorrow night and it is a big opportunity for him. The ball is very much in his court. This is the opportunity for him to show what he can do on a fairly big European stage, and the chance to prove that he really wants to play for Newcastle United."

The Spain international endured a terrible first year at St James' Park after suffering a serious hamstring tear in just his second appearance for the club and has never justified the faith - and money - invested in him by Roeder's predecessor, Graeme Souness.

However, with four of the men ahead of him in the pecking order unfit tomorrow night, he has rarely been needed as much as he will be in Palermo.

The injury problems extend far beyond the strikers with goalkeeper Steve Harper continuing to struggle with a groin strain which could hand Dutch teenager Tim Krul a senior debut.

In addition, the captain, Scott Parker, who damaged his knee in Saturday's goalless Premiership draw with his former club Charlton, stayed behind in England, as did Damien Duff, Stephen Carr and Celestine Babayaro, who all have minor knocks, although Emre and Sibierski are both fit.

Youngsters Krul, Fraser Foster, Paul Huntington, Matty Pattison, Alan O'Brien, James Troisi and Carroll were all included in the 23-man party, although Roeder insists he will field a competitive side in the search for a positive result following last month's home victory over Fenerbahce.

He said: "It will be a typical Italian crowd with fireworks, rockets and the whole lot, and to make matters worse for us, the pitch itself is no more than average.

"But it is a match for the brave. We will have some young players out there tomorrow night and we can only hope that they grow into men. We have obviously had Palermo watched and they play a high-tempo game. They score a lot of goals and they concede a lot, so you have always got a chance."

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