HAT’S A LUCKY ESCAPE!
NEWCASTLE v M KHARKIV Kick-off 8.05pm – ESPN
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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