ONLY Newcastle United could get booed off the pitch after qualifying for the next round of a cup competition.
Liverpool and Tottenham, who both face possible elimination on the final night of the Europa League group stage, would certainly like to be in the Magpies’ position with a game to go.
I can think of other Premier League clubs too – a sense of local diplomacy forbids me from naming one – who would just like to be in the contest in the first place.
All that said, Newcastle’s performance against Maritimo on Thursday night was truly awful and they were fortunate not to lose 2-1 when Fidelis volleyed a late chance wide.
Only Davide Santon, a rival to Hatem Ben Arfa as Newcastle’s player of the season so far, emerged with any real credit on a night when several young pretenders failed once again to live up to their billing.
Sammy Ameobi has pace but little poise.
Shane Ferguson, who admittedly did not play against Maritimo, has poise but little pace.
Roman Amalfitano, however, does not appear to possess either.
At least seasonal debutant Mehdi Abied looks twice the player he was last term.
I am talking size, mind, rather than ability.
Given the lengthening injury list at St James’s Park, you would expect that such players are going to see a little too much Premier League football over the coming weeks.
Successive away trips to Southampton and, in particular, Stoke City are not the type of games to unleash the faint hearted.
Before the start of the season many a Newcastle fan and, dare I say it manager Alan Pardew himself, would have targeted six points from the two matches.
Such is the gloom descending upon St James’s Park at the moment that two draws would be welcomed as progress.
With Ben Arfa and Papiss Demba Cisse picking up injuries on Thursday, the Europa League is fast becoming a poisoned chalice that Newcastle United can ill-afford to stay in.
Unless they unexpectedly win their final group game in Bordeaux, Pardew’s side potentially face a round of 32 second leg away to a Champions League reject.
A narrow defeat come February might be the best option so that the squad can contentrate on the far more lucrative bread and butter of the Premier League.
– GAVIN LEDWITH