CHRIS Hughton laid the foundations for Alan Pardew at Newcastle United – but beat him to Bruges.
Pardew has built a European campaign on the solid base left by the old boss, but it was Hughton who got to the continent first – with Birmingham City.
And the Championship club faced tonight’s opponents, Club Brugge, just over a year ago in the Europa League’s group stage.
It turned out to be a dramatic night in Bruges as Birmingham, backed by 6,000 fans, won thanks to a goal from Chris Wood in the 10th minute of injury time.
City’s European campaign, while welcomed by supporters, was arguably a distraction for the promotion-seekers, relegated a few months after qualifying for the Europa League thanks to Obafemi Martins’s winning goal in the League Cup.
Hughton, now manager of Premier League side Norwich City, inherited a small squad at St Andrews, and he understands the difficult decisions Pardew is facing this season as he juggles the competing demands of domestic and European football.
Something, at some point, has to give, and the Premier League is unashamedly Pardew’s overriding priority.
“Ours was a little bit different,” Hughton told the Gazette.
“We were a Championship side, and played 62 games last year. I think, for us, it helped us. It allowed me to play some of the squad players. We did OK in it.
“But it’s difficult. If you’re a side which has got ambitions like this club (Newcastle) has of being in that top four, it’s difficult to do well in all competitions.
“I think that they’ll use the squad. I’m sure Alan will use the squad as well as he can to get through those games.
“I would think, most certainly, the priority is to finish as high in the league as possible.”
Birmingham’s game at the Jan Breydel Stadium – where there will be almost 3,000 United fans – was the most memorable of the club’s European campaign.
City went behind, but levelled, and Woods scored the equaliser so late because of a lengthy stoppage.
The “feelgood factor” that Birmingham took back to the Midlands undoubtedly helped the club over the following weeks, however many tired legs he had in his dressing room.
United, by Pardew’s admission, are still adjusting to playing on a Thursday and a Sunday, and the club’s Premier League form has suffered.
The flipside is the invaluable first-team experience the likes of Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier have gained at home and abroad already this season.
What’s more, the club lead Group D having not conceded a goal, and a win against Brugge could be enough to secure a place in the Round of 32 with two games still to play.
That would open the door for more young players to feature in the final group stage fixtures against Maritimo and Bordeaux.
“We got a last-minute winner at Brugge with 6,000 Birmingham supporters,” recalls Hughton. ”It was a real big occasion.
“But you can use that one, particularly if you go there and use the squad and get a result.
“There’s a real feelgood factor that comes back to the club, particularly, as I say, if you’ve used some of the fringe or younger players.”