716: UEFA CUP: Newcastle pin hopes
by : Chris Sherrard
Bobby Robson’s Toon Army can salvage what has, for them, been a disappointing season with victory over PSV Eindhoven in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. European victory would surely provide the impetus for the Geordies to finish their season on a decidedly better note than they started it.
This season has seen Newcastle United again challenge for a Champions League spot. The difference between this campaign and ones in the recent past, is the difficulty which they have encountered on the way. Fourth spot in the Premiership is by no means guaranteed in the way it has been of late. Liverpool, Charlton, Aston Villa and a host of other clubs still harbour serious ambitions of taking the final spot on offer as English representatives in next season’s lucrative Champions League.
On all fronts, including, it has to be said, Europe, it has been a poor campaign for the Tynesiders. Elimination from the Champions League at the hands of under-fancied Partizan Belgrade showed that Robson’s young side still has a lot to learn if they are to consider themselves among the continent’s elite. Since that point, it has been up-and-down on the domestic front for the boys in black and white. With things going well in the league around the turn of the year, they crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of rivals Liverpool - a potentially fatal psychological blow.
It’s to Europe that Robson and his men have turned in search of hope and a long overdue trophy. One of the clear bonuses of qualifying for the Champions League is, if it should go sour at the first hurdle, there is the consolation of UEFA Cup football to try and make amends. Newcastle have seized on the opportunity that defeat in Belgrade has afforded them. With the exception of the tie with Norwegian outfit Valarenga, the Toon have looked as good as any side in the competition on their day.
PSV Eindhoven should provide the biggest challenge of the season for Newcastle, though. Another beneficiary of the ‘back-door’ route into the UEFA Cup, PSV have some notable scalps to their name in European football this season. They narrowly failed to advance from the group stages of the Champions League despite seeing off Deportivo and drawing with Monaco - the two sides to go through. Since coming into the UEFA Cup they have beaten struggling Italian side Perugia followed by a comfortable defeat of Auxerre in the last sixteen.
If Newcastle were to see off the Dutch challenge they could be confident of claiming a morale-boosting final spot. Their opponents in the semi-final would most likely be an out-of-sorts Inter Milan side. A team they have fond memories of playing from last season’s epic 2-2 Champions League clash at the San Siro.
The Toon Army, like their regional rivals, are crying out for some silverware to work themselves into a frenzy about. If Newcastle, managed by Geordie legend Bobby Robson and led on the pitch by Geordie legend Alan Shearer, were to claim the UEFA Cup in the final in Gothenburg on the 19th May, Tyneside would go nuts. The people of the town would spill into the city in their hundreds of thousands to salute their heroes. They would celebrate like a cup has never been celebrated before and maybe even forgive failure to claim fourth pot in the table. A cup is what they want more than anything. Now all the team has to do is win it!