There's no doubt that the club's league performances this season have failed to match the buzz of expectation and excitement that surrounded the city back in August. However, on the other hand, they find themselves in the quarter-final of the Europa League for the first time since 2005.
Despite a very stagnated start to the season, the influx of French talent in January has changed the mentality of the club and those involved with Newcastle United football club have begun to look up rather than down during the latter part of this season. And the Europa League is perhaps one of the reasons for our apparent change in fortune.
Of course the main goal is to consolidate our position as a Premier League club first and foremost, after what certainly has been a very unforgiving season thanks to injuries and suspension to first team players at key teams during the campaign. We now find ourselves on a much steadier foot and surely the target now has to be winning our first major trophy since the Fairs Cup way back in 1969.
We certainly have a squad capable of winning the Europa League, especially given the fact out of the 7 teams left in the competition, none of them possess a threat that completely outmatches that of Newcastle’s . Having defeated arguably one of the best teams in the competition in the round of 16, we continue to grow in excitement.
Benfica is our next challenge in the competition and although they are doing brilliantly in the Portuguese League, they are certainly an outfit that can be broken down, just ask Celtic!
We need to go to Lisbon with full confidence believing we can get a result, and there is no reason why we can’t. If we play how we did in the first leg against Russian giants Anzhi, where we defended very well and tried to break on the counter attack, then we stand a great chance of sneaking an away goal and coming back to Tyneside with a score draw.
However, we need to be wary of leaving ourselves exposed at the back; Benfica are a team that will punish anyone with a leaky back line and we need to make sure we are solid for the whole 180 minutes of the tie.
If we manage to sneak through the Benfica tie we will find ourselves in the semi-finals of the Europa League for the first time since 2004, when we were beaten by a Didier Drogba inspired Marseille team.
It would be a monumental achievement for the club, given the amount of misfortunate dealt to our squad in the form of injuries. Our next challenge though is a trip to Champions Manchester City where we will come up against a team out of form and out of the title race.
A point would be a great result; a win on the other hand could all but guarantee our safety in the league. We could then go all guns blazing at the Europa League and hopefully end up in Amsterdam on May 15th! Got your tickets?
Keep the faith.
by Craig Middleton