Luque brought in from the cold to face Palermo

November 1, 2006

Forgotten man Albert Luque will come in from the cold in Sicily tomorrow night as Newcastle attempt to ease towards the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup.

The 28-year-old Spaniard is the main beneficiary of an injury crisis which has wrecked manager Glenn Roeder's plans for the tie against Palermo.

A 23-man party jetted out of Newcastle International Airport this morning with £10million summer signing Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi and Michael Owen left behind in the treatment room and Giuseppe Rossi ineligible to play in Europe.

That leaves Roeder with only Luque, Antoine Sibierski and youngster Andy Carroll to face the Serie A high-fliers, and he has confirmed the £9.5million former Deportivo la Coruna star will start at the Renzo Barbera Stadium.

Luque has started only two games this season - the 1-1 Intertoto Cup draw with Lillestrom on July 15, in which he scored, and the 0-0 UEFA Cup draw with Ventspils on August 24 - but now has a chance to make his mark again.

Roeder said: 'Albert Luque will start tomorrow night and it is a big opportunity for him. The ball is very much in his court.

'This is the opportunity for him to show what he can do on a fairly big European stage, and the chance to prove that he really wants to play for Newcastle United.'

The Spanish international endured a nightmare first year at St James' Park after suffering a serious hamstring tear in just his second appearance, and has never justified the faith - and money - invested in him by Roeder's predecessor Graeme Souness.

However, with four of the men ahead of him in the pecking order sidelined tomorrow night, he has rarely been needed as much as he will be in Palermo.

The injury problems extend far beyond the frontmen with keeper Steve Harper continuing to struggle with a groin strain which could hand Dutch teenager Tim Krul a senior debut.

In addition, skipper Scott Parker, who damaged his knee in Saturday's goalless Barclays Premiership draw with former club Charlton, stayed behind, as did Damien Duff, Stephen Carr and Celestine Babayaro, who all have minor knocks, although Emre and Sibierski are both fit.

Youngsters Krul, Fraser Foster, Paul Huntington, Matty Pattison, Alan O'Brien, James Troisi and Carroll were all included in the 23-man party, although Roeder insists he will field a competitive side in the search for a positive result following last month's home victory over Fenerbahce.

He said: 'It will be a typical Italian crowd with fireworks, rockets and the whole lot, and to make matters worse for us, the pitch itself is no more than average.

'But it is a match for the brave. We will have some young players out there tomorrow night and we can only hope that they grow into men.

'We have obviously had Palermo watched and they play a high tempo game. They score a lot of goals and they concede a lot, so you have always got a chance.

'However we are not going into the game with any negative thoughts, and we know if we can come away with a draw, then it will be a fantastic result for us.'

Palermo, who won at Fiorentina at the weekend and boast a victory over AC Milan already this season, are level on points with Inter Milan at the top of Serie A.

Newcastle face a crucial Premiership clash with Sheffield United less than 48 hours after the game in Palermo, and Roeder will hope his injury troubles have eased significantly by then.

Goalkeeper Shay Given is close to a return after abdominal surgery, although he will not be rushed back.

Roeder said: 'Shay could do with putting a bit of weight back on, but he is all but back in full training with us and he is travelling to Sicily to try to build up to full fitness.

'Shay will step up his training next week and after that, we will see where we go from there.'