Robson looks to bit players for final push

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The Independent Football

In this, the season of the great European comebacks, Newcastle United's task is tough but hardly impossible.

They will not, unlike Monaco and Deportivo La Coruña in the Champions' League, have to win a second leg after conceding four in the first. Neither a draw nor a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge will be of any use to Chelsea in their attempt to make the final of the European Cup. "All" Newcastle have to do to reach the Uefa Cup equivalent is to draw while scoring a goal in the Stade Velodrome.

Their manager, Sir Bobby Robson, thought the second leg of the semi-final with Marseilles could be so tight after the wonderfully-tense goalless draw at St James' Park, that it might come down to a penalty shoot-out. Since Robson lost his most famous match, a semi-final to boot, on penalties, and given the wounds inflicted by Newcastle's penalty-shoot out in the Champions' League qualifier by Partizan Belgrade, those would be awkward thoughts to be intruding so soon after the final whistle.

"I don't consider Marseilles to be favourites, the match is equal and we're not afraid, unless we pick up any more injuries," he remarked. To have defied the pace and invention of Marseilles without Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Jenas and Kieron Dyer was a fine achievement but it would have been better had there been a prospect of any of them recovering in time for the second leg.

Whatever happens, Thursday was the last night of European football on Tyneside this season, which has seen 292,000 tickets sold. It is hard to know how much revenue the Uefa Cup has brought into the club but £6.5m would be about right. However, had Newcastle remained in the Champions' League until May, they might have expected to treble that figure. And now Robson has to patch up his squad and send it out to face Chelsea tomorrow to ensure that they make that great European honeypot.

As someone who worked abroad for often incomprehensibly demanding employers; who was sacked by Sporting Lisbon when top of the Portuguese League and who failed to keep his job at Barcelona after delivering three trophies to the Nou Camp, Robson has great sympathy for Claudio Ranieri.

"You in the media would say he has one foot out of the final rather than one foot in it, but that shows how destructive you can be. He will think 2-0 at Chelsea in the second leg is a possibility and so do I."

If Newcastle are to avoid their great aim of not having to defend their first piece of silverware since 1969, then they will have to do it with those who have spent most of the season in the shadows.

As a supporting cast, Michael Bridges, Lee Bowyer and Hugo Viana are the kind of expensive bit-part players you might expect to find in a lavish country house costume drama that demands a cameo from Maggie Smith.

When he mentioned Viana, who has never come close to justifying the £8m spent to bring him from Sporting Lisbon three years ago, Robson demonstrated what everyone in football knows: that behind the grandfatherly image there is plenty of steel.

"Viana has come in without playing in the first team for months. He played well after a timid start. Imagine what would have happened if I had listened to those who were telling me: 'He has to go home because he has to play for Portugal in the summer'. Where would I have been had I let him go? He stays here and competes here. I said to him: 'I don't care if you don't play until the last match of the season. If you play and we get the three points we need, me keeping you here would have been justified."

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