MIKE Williamson will captain Newcastle United against Atromitos tonight (KO 6pm).
The defender – who started the season on the bench – will proudly lead out the club on its return to European competition after a five-year absence.
With Fabricio Coloccini injured, United manager Alan Pardew paired Steven Taylor with James Perch in the heart of his defence for last weekend’s Premier League opener against Tottenham Hotspur.
Coloccini stayed behind on Tyneside for further treatment on a thigh injury ahead of Saturday’s visit to Chelsea.
Taylor travelled but isn’t expected to play, with the 26-year-old instead likely to be kept fresh for Stamford Bridge.
And Williamson will be handed the task of marshalling and organising a Newcastle’s defence which is also likely to feature Ryan Taylor and James Tavernier in the first leg of the club’s Europa League qualifier.
“Williamson will be captain,” Pardew said.
“He was brilliant for me last season, and just missed out on Saturday. I had this game in mind for him, as I felt it would suit him better.
“It worked on Saturday, and, hopefully, it’ll work out tonight.”
While the game will be significant for Williamson, as skipper, it has a bigger significance for Pardew – and the club.
United last competed in Europe in the 2006/07 season, when they meekly bowed out on away goals at AZ Alkmaar at the Round of 16 stage despite taking a two-goal advantage to Holland.
Early in Pardew’s tenure at Newcastle he set his sights on taking the club back into Europe.
And last season’s fifth-placed finish ensured they would return after five seasons.
“For us, it’s a kind of mark of achievement for last year,” said Pardew, who also managed West Ham United in Europe.
“That’s what it is – you don’t get in this competition if you haven’t achieved something the year before.”
The difficult part for Pardew will be balancing the competing demands of the Premier League and European football, should United progress to the group stage.
“Of course, we’re here now, and we want to do well,” he said.
“My ambitions are very high, and I expect them to be high for my team.
“We should be able to get the strongest possible finish we can in the Premier League, and to do very well in this comptition with the 24 senior pros we’ve got.
“They’re not brought here to make up the numbers, they’re here to play football.
“They earn good money, and some of them will have to contribute, big time.”