Harper ready for Toon return

Gazette Series: Steve Harper is set to make his first competitive Newcastle appearance in over a year Steve Harper is set to make his first competitive Newcastle appearance in over a year

Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper is relishing the prospect of a return to European action at the age of 37.

A veteran of the Magpies' two Champions League campaigns, during which he famously kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory over Juventus, Harper could taste continental action once again on Thursday evening as the club attempts to secure a Europa League play-off advantage over Greek side Atromitos to take back to Tyneside next week.

He said: "It's fantastic to be back in Europe. All credit to the gaffer and the players last year, they were outstanding and earned the right to be back here."

He added: "It's great for me - I remember when we went out of Europe the last time, and a lot has happened in the not too many years between then and now.

"But I know a lot of people, and I am sure the fans, will say that we are back where we belong, and hopefully we can stay in this competition as long as possible."

Newcastle have not played in Europe since the 2006-07 season when they missed out on a place in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals on away goals following a 4-4 aggregate draw with AZ Alkmaar.

Only the most optimistic of supporters would have contemplated such a swift return in the wake of a hugely embarrassing fall from the top flight, and there is a determination within the camp not to allow the opportunity to slip from their grasp.

However, Harper, part of the squads which previously travelled to Greece for ties against Panionios and Olympiacos, knows they can take nothing for granted.

The keeper, whose last competitive game for the club came in April last year, said: "We know whenever you come over here in these European games that they are big games, especially when Newcastle United come, so their fans will be loud, we know that, and it will be a good experience for our lads."

Several of Pardew's big guns remained at home nursing minor injuries with one eye on Saturday's Barclays Premier League trip to Chelsea, among them skipper Fabricio Coloccini, midfielder Cheick Tiote and striker Demba Ba, and the manager is likely to use the depth of a squad which includes summer signings Gael Bigirimana and Romain Amalfitano, as well as 17-year-old striker Adam Campbell.

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