UNSUNG hero Jonas Gutierrez’s ready to take centre stage in Newcastle United’s European campaign.
Up to now, the midfielder has only made one substitute’s appearance in the Europa League.
But Gutierrez – who missed Saturday’s home defeat to Swansea City with a knee injury – is expected to start against Maritimo at St James’s Park on Thursday night amid a worsening injury crisis at the club.
United manager Alan Pardew has lost midfielder Yohan Cabaye to a groin problem for up to six weeks.
And Gutierrez could be asked to play in the centre of midfield as Newcastle look to book their place in the competition’s Round of 32 with a game to spare.
“It was really touch and go with him (for Swansea),” Pardew told the Gazette.
“We had a tough week, and it was a tough call on Jonas.
“Jonas had an injury where we thought we could not risk losing him, especially after learning we’d lost Cabaye.
“We made that call. We think he’ll be OK for Thursday, and hopefully for Sunday at Southampton.”
Also vying for starts in midfield are Cheik Tiote and Vurnon Anita, though the former is expected to be kept fresh for Sunday’s Premier League game against Southampton.
Pardew felt the performance from Tiote, on his return from a three-game suspension, was a positive, while he also had praise for his midfield partner, Anita.
“Cheik looked like his old self, and I thought Vurnon did well too,” added Pardew.
“There were positives, and we have to take that into the next game.”
The defeat followed a home reverse to West Ham United, and the result dropped the club into the bottom half of the Premier League.
There were some boos at the final whistle, but Pardew felt his team’s performance was better than that against Sam Allardyce’s side six days earlier.
Among the positives was the performance of Hatem Ben Arfa, involved in all United’s best attacking moves.
Pardew said: “Hatem may not have scored or created the goal, but he did threaten a lot.
“You have to say that he had some lovely moments in the game.”