NEWCASTLE UNITED return to the European stage tomorrow and defender Steven Taylor is desperate to go all the way, despite the extra strains it would bring on the squad.
Metalist Kharkiv are the visitors to St James’ Park, the Ukraine club having been in the North-East since the weekend.
Yesterday they trained at The Northern Echo Arena in Darlington ahead of the first leg of the last-32 tie.
There is hope on Tyneside of a run to the latter stages of the competition.
Newcastle have added to their squad considerably since the group stages, when manager Alan Pardew found he did not have a strong enough pool of players to deal with domestic and European football.
That, though, has not put off Taylor. Newcastle might be struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League but he believes an opportunity to claim some silverware should not be overlooked cheaply.
He said: “We know we are under pressure in every game we play. We want to do well in this competition. The gaffer has made it clear in team meetings and the players know too.
“I am desperate to win something. Hopefully this could be it. People say we have been playing weakened teams, but we haven’t. We have got great players and we have to try to do as well as we can in every match we play.
“There is more European experience in the squad now with the signings we made in January and we do have the young players that are good enough.”
One of those young players is Sammy Ameobi and he will miss the tie because of a hamstring problem picked up in training.
The 20-year-old had become a key member of Newcastle’s Europa League squad during the group stages, playing five out of the six games.
But now Pardew has alternatives after bringing in five new faces last month – even if forward Yoan Gouffran is ineligible and battling to recover from a shin injury sustained at Tottenham.
“The gaffer has the options now and he didn’t have those at the start of the season, that should help us,” said Taylor.
“Players had to play out of position because of injury, but now we should have the players to come in.
“It was so difficult for our gaffer to be able to pick a side before January when we had all of the games. Competition is very healthy and we have to try to make the most of the Europa League.”
Losing at Tottenham on Saturday ended a run of backto- back victories in the Premier League. It also left Newcastle hovering four points above the relegation zone.
Having been dumped out of the FA Cup, Taylor accepts the Europa League has grown in significance for the club.
“Thursday was already important, but now I think it is more so because we have to bounce back from the Tottenham defeat,” said Taylor.
“We have new faces in the squad, we all want to do well.
European nights are what St James’ Park is all about and, from what I have heard, there will be a lot of fans there so the atmosphere should be something else.
“And rightly so because last season we did so well to qualify for Europe and now we need to kick on in the competition.
We want to win it.”
After being named in the Europa League squad last week, new fans’ favourite Moussa Sissoko could be involved against Metalist. He is adamant he is not a support striker, despite operating in such a role in the absence of Hatem Ben Arfa.
He said: “I am not a No 10.
Let’s say I am an attacking central midfielder. I like to move, defend, attack. I do everything a bit. The centre is where I can bring the most to the team. On the side, it is much more complicated.”
But the 23-year-old Frenchman is happy with his start after his £1.8m switch from Toulouse.
“It has gone off smoothly,”
he said. “I have had a lot of fun. The Frenchmen who came to Newcastle this January have adapted well. I have always wanted to play in England and it suits me the best.
“When I was a kid I was very impressed by Arsenal with all their Frenchmen.
Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. I loved Vieira as we played in the same position.
He radiated such power.”