STEVE Harper is relishing the return of European football to St James’s Park.
Harper made his first appearance since April last year in Thursday night’s 1-1 draw against Greek side Atromitos in Athens.
And the goalkeeper, involved in so many famous European football nights in the Sir Bobby Robson era, can’t wait for the second leg.
Tim Krul will be back in the Newcastle goal for this evening’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (KO 5.30pm), but there could be another opportunity for Harper on Thursday.
Harper – who faced the likes of Juventus and Dynamo Kiev at St James’s Park in the Champions League a decade ago – is hoping for a “special” night on St James’s Park, which last hosted Europesaid.
“Hopefully, the spirits will be high after a positive result at Chelsea, and we’ll get a good crowd in.
“It’ll be the first European night back at the stadium, and hopefully it’ll be a special one, and we’ll qualify.”
Reflecting on his own return on a baking night in Athens, Harper added: “It’s great – it’s been a long time. There were some big cobwebs to blow away, but I felt good.
“It was a nice warm night for the old bones! It was good to get 90 minutes under my belt. I’ve missed it, and I enjoyed it.”
Denis Epstein gave Atromitos a 24th-minute lead, but that goal was cancelled out by a stunning Ryan Taylor free kick on the stroke of half-time.
“I think it was a job pretty well done,” added Harper. “It was a bit of a journey into the unknown.
“But we’d seen them on DVD, and I think the surprising thing was how they let us have the ball.
“When you come to a place like this, in extreme temperatures that we’re not used to, we expected them to probably press us a bit more, so it suited us that they let us dictate the tempo.
“We knew from watching them that the left winger was a big danger, and so it proved. He had a couple of opportunities before that, and scored a good goal.
“We made some adjustments at half time to look after that, and were pretty comfortable.
“When you’ve got somebody of Ryan’s ability and quality, you’re always in the hunt for an away goal.”