SHOLA Ameobi is adamant that a full-strength Newcastle United are genuine contenders for Europa League glory this season, despite admitting that Thursday’s European flops deserved a blast from Alan Pardew.
A consistently entertaining Group D campaign concluded with a whimper in Bordeaux as a youthful United proved no match for Francis Gillot’s team, who topped the standings and are in prime position for a more favourable route to Amsterdam when the draw is made on December 20 in Switzerland.
Pardew responded with a dressing-down for the squad’s young guns who are unlikely to get further opportunities in the competition if the manager’s appeal for January recruitment drive is successful.
Ameobi brushed off the obvious disappointment of Newcastle’s under-par showing and said that it had not dimmed the club’s ambitions to have a big say in the business end of the Europa League in the New Year.
United head to Fulham on Monday buoyed by the return of several big-hitters and Ameobi believes that will also aid them in Continental competition, where the younger players wasted a big opportunity in south-west Bordeaux.
“There is no excuses, we were not up to speed and it was very disappointing,” he said. “Our chance to win the group was there and it didn’t quite work out for us. Our inexperience perhaps told in the end the boys chucked in at the deep end and at times that has worked out well for us in Europe, but it was a step too far for the guys.
“But we are through and we are delighted. This is a competition we are not just in to fill the numbers. We want to stamp our mark on Europe and this is a great chance to do that. It is a cup competition – if you get to the latter stages anything can happen and we’re really excited about that.
“We wanted to get through, we have done that, and hopefully we can look forward to February with a fully fit squad and really attack with all guns blazing.”
Thursday’s final round of the group phase threw up some potentially enthralling matches for United in the knock-out stages, with a slew of German sides and giants like Ajax and Inter Milan all possible opponents.
Ameobi is a veteran of some big European games at St James’ Park, and wants to bring those unforgettable evenings to a whole new generation of supporters.
“We know how good those European nights are,” he said. “I was lucky enough to experience those a few years ago and we have done the first part to qualify.
“We stumbled over the line a bit but we are there and we look forward to the draw and improving.
“Every game is about learning and some times you learn more in defeat than when everything is going swimmingly. They (the young players) are all disappointed we have lost but hopefully it will help them in the long run and we will have more experience and knowhow in February to win away from home.”
Ameobi is one of the few players who featured at Bordeaux with genuine hopes of playing at Craven Cottage too.
Although the return of Demba Ba is likely to see Ameobi pushed onto the bench, he will be involved – and can’t wait for the chance to atone for Thursday’s disappointment.
He said: “That’s what great about the games coming thick and fast, you can quickly put the last bad one behind you. Hopefully we have turned the corner in the Premier League with the win against Wigan. It was a tough November for us but every team has tough periods – even the top teams.
“We know we have to work hard but we have players who finished fifth last year and you don’t turn into a bad team overnight.”
“We are working hard we might get all the results we want and it might not be as great a last season but we have to work hard and hopefully the results will come.”