Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa backs Mags for Europa success

GOING CLOSE ... Anzhi's goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov, left, makes a save from Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa.
GOING CLOSE ... Anzhi's goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov, left, makes a save from Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa.

HATEM Ben Arfa backed Newcastle United to book a place in the Europa League’s quarter-finals after the team’s gutsy performance in Moscow.

Alan Pardew’s side held Anzhi Makhachkala to a goalless draw last night.

And Ben Arfa – who made his comeback from injury on what was his 26th birthday – is hopeful Newcastle can finish the job off at St James’s Park in six days time.

United had to be at their best defensively on the Luzhniki Stadium’s artificial pitch, and Ben Arfa’s confident the team can get on the front foot on Tyneside.

“We can now finish the job – we have a great chance,” Ben Arfa said.

“We have the chance to win with our team – St James’s Park will be a different game now.”

Ben Arfa, played as a “false nine” striker by Pardew, had Newcastle’s best chance, but his attempted dink midway through the second-half was stopped by goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov.

“I had a chance – I actually tried to chip it high over the keeper,” said Ben Arfa, who had been sidelined since December with a hamstring problem.

“I was aiming for more uplift, but on that pitch it isn’t the same as on grass. I hope next game I get another chance – and this time I’ll score.

“It was a good birthday for me still – almost perfect. But 0-0 is OK. We haven’t lost, and we have a great chance to qualify.

“We were solid, and we tried to keep the ball, but it was a night when we didn’t have too many chances to score.

“I think 0-0 though is a good scoreline. We always prefer to score a goal or two of course. Yet this gives us a good chance to get through.”

The playing surface was a concern for Pardew, who chose not to start with Shola Ameobi – who replaced Ben Arfa in the 65th minute – because of the toll it would take on the striker.

“It was hard on the plastic pitch – it isn’t easy on the knees,” said Ben Arfa.

“But that is the game, and we had to play on it. Overall I feel good, and I’m very happy to be going back with the score level.”

Twitter: @milesstarforth