- Europa League
Pardew: Newcastle so unlucky to be knocked out
Alan Pardew admits Newcastle's successful Europa League campaign - which ended with a 1-1 draw at home to Benfica on Thursday - will provide a significant change in the club's fortunes.
Despite suffering a 4-2 aggregate defeat against the Portuguese side, Newcastle's progression through Europe provided some respite from what has been a difficult Premier League season.
But with the Toon now five points above the relegation zone, Pardew is confident his side's strong performances against some of Europe's best will aid their fight for survival.
Papiss Cisse's 71st-minute strike pulled Newcastle within one goal of semi-final progression, but Eduardo Salvio struck in injury-time to seal the tie for Benfica. Results aside, Pardew insists he is proud of the way his players responded against their formidable opponents.
"It was a great night, and in a lot of ways you can't take much more out of a defeat than that," Pardew told nufcTV. "We put everything at risk tonight and forgot about the Sunderland game [on Sunday]. We tried to go for it.
"In the first leg in Benfica they exposed us by cutting through our wide players, but we wouldn't let that happen tonight. Once we got them on the back foot they got very nervous, and we are so unlucky not to be in the semi-final, for sure.
"I'm proud to be manager of this football club. What a credit we have been to this competition and to Europe. And I'm not just talking about the team, I'm talking about the whole club, the fans and the way they've conducted themselves on this little European tour of ours."
Last week's 3-1 defeat in Portugal made qualification difficult for Pardew's men, although he is confident Benfica were kept on their toes.
"They are a good side - you can't let them get a lead against you," Pardew told ITV4. "In the first half we kept it tight and looked to nick a goal - and almost did before half-time. We had two or three big chances at 1-0 but you can't ask for anything more from the crowd, the players.
"You've got to respect the opposition - technically they are a superb side. I am so proud of the performance - we couldn't have done any more. We've got some very good players - when we get them all back we've got a very good side.''
Stand-in captain Yohan Cabaye said the atmosphere of European football at St James' Park has lifted morale around the club, with league performances improving following the competition's group stage.
"We gave everything on the pitch," he told nufcTV. "We played well and we followed the plan. When we were winning 1-0, they were scared about the second goal we were close to.
"Unfortunately we couldn't do it. That is football but we have gained a lot of experience tonight because the game was good to play in and trying to claim back two goals is a good experience for the young players.
"Playing in an atmosphere such as tonight was unbelievable. When Papiss scored, everyone was thinking that we could do it. We had a chance at the end but unfortunately we didn't score again so we are sad tonight.
"It wasn't enough to go through but I think we have to be proud of our game tonight and now just look forward to Sunday and keep the crowd behind us for this big game."