While it’s been an exciting return to European football all round this week, it is fair to say the Europa League has proved a welcome distraction for Newcastle United for much of the season.
But having steadied the ship at home with recent back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Aston Villa, Alan Pardew’s team restart their continental challenge against a side who have impressed many in Europe over the past few campaigns.
Metalist Kharkiv have become regulars in the Europa League having finished third in the Ukrainian Premier League on six consecutive occasions and made a run to the quarter-final in last season’s competition.
The Ukrainians further established their credentials in topping Group K before Christmas and arrive on Tyneside as 3/4 favourites to come through the tie but only 5/2 to take a first-leg lead.
Despite being 19/20 to reach the quarter-finals, Newcastle are clear 21/20 favourites on their own patch, with the draw 12/5.
Much of the Toon’s recent improvement has been down to Pardew’s astute business in the January window, where he added the impressive Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran, among others, to his already fine French-speaking connection.
With such an array of Euro-savvy talent, Pardew will be keen to get a first-half opening goal at 13/10, with Papiss Cisse and Sissoko the most likely men to get it at 5/1 and 9/1 respectively.
What will add to the Magpies’ chances of a fast start is Metalist’s lack of match practice, with the Ukrainian Premier League’s winter break meaning Kharkiv’s last competitive game was back in December.
So should Newcastle get on top early, they can gain an insurmountable advantage – for the first leg at least. New customers using the free £20 bet they receive when registering with bwin would win £130 should the Toon win both halves.
But with international talents like Argentine Sebastian Blanco and Brazilian Cleiton Xavier in Metalist’s ranks, I fancy them to cause problems for the Toon and they should be good enough to grab a priceless away goal in an eventual defeat.
Newcastle are available at a very tempting 17/4 to win either 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 and with such impressive potential returns on offer, that’s where my money will be going.