Chris Hughton has told his Newcastle players they should relish their Carling Cup third round trip to free-scoring Chelsea.
The Magpies head for Stamford Bridge tomorrow night on the back of their impressive 1-0 Barclays Premier League victory at Everton to face a side who have plundered 12 goals in just three games to date this season on their own pitch.
Perhaps more worryingly, they scored six without reply against last season’s Championship runners-up West Brom and on Saturday, struck four times within the opening 41 minutes to see off play-off winners Blackpool.
Newcastle, who strolled to the Championship title last season, headed south knowing their task could hardly be more difficult as they attempt to become the first visiting side to find the back of the net at the Bridge during the new campaign while at the same time hoping to repel Carlo Ancelotti’s seemingly irresistible attack.
But while the prospect of trying to keep the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda at bay may cause the odd sleepless night, former Tottenham and Republic of Ireland defender Hughton insists his players should be looking forward to it.
He said with a smile: “You go to bed the night before hoping they can’t play! Actually, it’s the complete opposite.
“Although it’s a Carling Cup game, which is away from the pressure of the league, these are the games you want to be involved in, these are the games you want the players to be involved in.
“With all due respect to the other teams, going to your Old Traffords and your Stamford Bridges and your Emirates, they are the really tough competitive games that you want the players to be involved in.
“It’s one more to look forward to than to fear – and, of course, there isn’t that pressure on us.
“I don’t think people expect us to win, so we go there without that pressure.”
In terms of Newcastle’s priorities this season, the Carling Cup is not high on the list.
That is not a reflection of any disrespect for the competition, simply an acknowledgement that top-flight survival and the financial stability it would bring is the overwhelming objective.
As a result, Hughton will use the depth of his squad with one eye on Sunday’s home clash with Stoke.
He said: “I don’t think it would be unfair to say it is not the biggest of our priorities, but we very much have respect for this competition and even more so, a respect for Chelsea Football Club, who have started the season so well.
“We will make sure we put out a side that’s capable of coping very well with them.
“You are always concerned up against a top-quality Chelsea side who are scoring goals for fun, and certainly with the home record they have got.
“But you have also got to have faith in the squad you have and the abilities we have.
“We will make sure we go there with a side which is capable of getting something.”
Keeper Tim Krul is likely to deputise for the injured Steve Harper with 20-year-old Swede Ole Soderberg providing the back-up, at least until the full extent of the damage to Harper’s shoulder is known.
England international Sol Campbell will make his debut after working his way to full fitness, and the arrivals of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tiote mean the manager has a bigger pool of players from which to select.
Hughton said: “We are fortunate. With the newer players who have come in, Tiote and Ben Arfa, playing on Saturday, it has increased the squad we have.
“There were also what we regard as first-team players who didn’t participate on Saturday, which has given us a bigger squad to chose from, and I certainly will be using that squad to good effect.”