NEW­CAS­TLE v M KHARKIV Kick-off 8.05pm – ESPN

Midweek Sport - - SPORTS -

ALAN PARDEW in­sists Met­al­ist Kharkiv have had a lucky es­cape.

New­cas­tle host the Ukraini­ans as they re­turn to Europa League ac­tion, with a place in the last 16 up for grabs.

Thurs­day’s first-leg clash at St James’ Park comes just too soon for Hatem Ben Arfa, who hopes to re­turn from a two-month ham­string in­jury lay-off in Toon’s next Pre­mier League game against Southamp­ton on Sun­day week.

Pardew (left) can’t wait to wel­come back his mid­field tal­is­man to fig­ure for the first time along­side the five French stars signed in Jan­uary.

He said: “Hatem will hopefully be back for Southamp­ton.

“So far this sea­son we haven’t even come close to get­ting my best side out there. This is the clos­est I’ve got.

“You’d like to think with Yoan Gouf­fran on one side, Ben Arfa on the other and Moussa Sis­soko and Papiss Cisse through the mid­dle, it’s a mouth-wa­ter­ing prospect.

“You put Che­ick Tiote in there and we have got a really good side – if we can get it out on the pitch.”

Pardew is set to hand first Toon starts to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Mas­sa­dio Haidara against Met­al­ist, who have not played a com­pet­i­tive game for more than two months due to a win­ter break.

The Ukraini­ans drew 1-1 with North­ern League side Whit­ley Bay in a warm-up to their bid to end New­cas­tle’s 10-year un­beaten home record in Europe.

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