We make our long awaited return to European football this coming Thursday evening with a tie in Athens against Atromitos. Unbelievably it is over five years since we last competed in continental football when we were eliminated from the UEFA cup last 16 on away goals by AZ Alkmaar under the management of Glenn Roeder in March 2007 (we blew a 3 goal lead in the tie!) At the time we were used to it and many of us took it for granted - oh how we've missed it!
So, who are Atromitos?
Athens based Atromitos finished fourth in the Greek Super League last season, 23 points behind champions Olympiakos.
They were founded in 1923 and play at the 10,200 seater Peristeri Stadium (we received 500 tickets for this game).
They are managed by Dusan Bajevic and their big rivals are Egaleo, though the two clubs play in different divisions at the moment.
Atromitos were relegated in 2008 but bounced straight back at the first time of asking, so there is a similarity we share! They were almost relegated again in 2011.
Our first leg on Thursday will be only the third European tie in their club history. It will be our 119th. The second leg will bring Atromitos level with Sunderland on four European ties..... In their one and only previous European tie they lost 6 v 1 on aggregate to Sevilla in the 06/07 UEFA cup.
Atromitos have never won the Greek league or cup, though they have won the second division twice.
They have a few players with experience in English football including former Liverpool keeper Charles Itandje, Stathis Tavliridis and the brother of former Newcastle striker Shefqi Kuqi, Njazi.
This is a decent draw for us but if we want to progress to the group stage we need to avoid complacency. Pardew has already admitted that he will employ heavy squad rotation for this competition, but in order to go through I think we need to field some experience on Thursday. We need an away goal to bring back to St James' next week. Two major things to consider have to be the temperature (forecast to be way above 30C) and the fact that we have a game at Stamford Bridge less than 48 hours later. UEFA refused our request to change the order of the games so we face a round trip of over 3,200 miles not long before a very difficult game. Thanks for that! All things considered, if I was in Pardew's position I would name the following side:
Krul, Simpson, Ferguson, Williamson, Perch, Marveaux, Obertan, Anita, Abeid, Ba or Cisse, Vuckic (45) Campbell (45) - with a bit of luck Ba or Cisse could grab us a goal or two before making an early exit.
Amalfitano and Bigirimana could also feature.
Kick off is at 1800BST and I am looking forward to it!
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