8:00am Thursday 22nd November 2012
By Scott Wilson
GAEL Bigirimana is hoping Newcastle's progress in the Europa League will help provide him with more first-team football in the second half of the season.
The Magpies will book their place in the last 32 of the Europa League if they beat Maritimo at St James' Park, with a draw or even a defeat potentially being good enough depending on what happens in the other Group D game between Club Brugge and Bordeaux.
Bigirimana has been a key component of his side's European campaign, appearing in all six of Newcastle's matches so far.
He is hoping to start at the heart of midfield tonight, and is targeting further appearances in the knock-out phase of the competition, which begins in February.
"It's a competition that offers young players great experience," said Bigirimana, who turned 19 at the end of last month. "I have never played in this competition before, but when I moved here I always hoped I would get the chance to play in it.
"It has been good for me, and for all the young lads. It's a great competition for experience and hopefully it will help in the rest of my career.
"I'm just grateful to get a chance to play in the team and be involved in this tournament. It's made me hungry for more, but I just need to be patient sometimes because I'm still young and still have a lot of things to learn. I'm enjoying my football and enjoying my experience here at Newcastle."
Tonight's game comes on the back of successive home defeats to West Ham and Swansea, Newcastle's first back-to-back home reverses since the relegation campaign of 2008-09.
The club's Premier League form has been patchy all season, but their home record in the Europa League is exemplary as they have beaten Atromitos, Bordeaux and Club Brugge without conceding a goal.
A fourth victory this evening would confirm Newcastle's appearance in the last 32, and perhaps more importantly, improve morale ahead of Sunday's league game at Southampton.
"As a player, you just want to go into every game and get the three points," said Bigirimana. "When I watched the team last season, it looked as though they could go for ten games unbeaten."These things happen in football. It's up to us as players to keep our heads up and make sure we get the next three points that are available to us.
"We hope we can win to make sure we are still playing in this competition next year. If we get the three points we go through and that will help create a different atmosphere in the squad."
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