ALAN Pardew believed Newcastle United would go on to book their place in the Europa League semi-finals during a pulsating second half against Benfica.
Needing a 2-0 victory following their 3-1 defeat in Portugal seven days earlier, The Magpies did not locate their breakthrough goal until 19 minutes from time when Papiss Cisse pounced.
The introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa – back after a five-week hamstring lay-off – had proved instrumental in swinging the tie in United’s favour and it was his dribble which led to the opener.
With the home side implored forward by a vociferous crowd, it was the Frenchman who had the best chance for a second, skipping by two red shirts before blazing over late on.
But black-and-white hearts were broken in stoppage-time when Eduardo Salvio turned home from close-range to end the contest.
Pardew reflected: “The fact that Benfica really had a problem with us when we scored then I thought we would go on to get a second.
“When Hatem cut inside in their box I thought that was our moment, unfortunately he just got too much on it and it went over.
“We were so unlucky.
“There were fine margins as the difference.”
And Pardew believes had Ben Arfa been available for the first-leg tie at the Stadium of Light, then his side might well have been in the hat for tomorrow’s semi-final draw.
“If Hatem was fit in the first leg then who knows?” he pondered.
“I thought over the two legs Benfica had the rub of the green because we could have won that.
“But they are a magnificent club with fantastic players and they’ll be on the European stage for years to come.
“I think they can win it and we’ll be watching their progress between now and the final, we wish them the best of luck.”