AZ Alkmaar hope the 1,600th game since their formation in 1967 will mark an evening to remember as they bid to overturn a 4-2 UEFA Cup deficit at home to Newcastle United FC.
Trailing 4-1 at half-time at St James' Park in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie, Louis van Gaal's side looked destined to exit the tournament without much of a fight until Danny Koevermans converted a rebound from Moussa Dembélé's saved penalty to give AZ a priceless second away goal.
Now the Dutch club's 28-match unbeaten home run in Europe may come to their defence. They are undefeated in UEFA competition at their own ground since they were founded with the merger of Alkmaar 54 and Zaanstreek in 1967, and are nearing Ipswich Town FC's record of 31 unbeaten home fixtures. Midfielder Demy de Zeeuw believes an early goal on Thursday could prompt a complete turnaround in the tie. "The most important thing is that we don't concede any goals, because we will get our chances," he said. "If we convert our first chance into a goal, it could end up being a nice UEFA Cup night."
Koevermans and Barry Opdam are expected to start despite missing Sunday's 0-0 home draw with Feyenoord, Simon Cziommer has succumbed to a calf complaint, while David Mendes da Silva, Stijn Schaars, Khalid Sinouh and Joey Didulica remain on the long-term injured list. Van Gaal, meanwhile, has warned his team about the threat of Newcastle's Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins. "We lost the ball too much during the build-up last week, and then with Martins they have a real menace," he said. Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder is equally aware of AZ's potency in attack. He said: "We have seen Louis van Gaal's team enough times and we know they like to attack you if you allow them to, but we are at our best when we are in the opposition's half."
Stephen Carr and Emre Belözoğlu will be available again for the English Premiership outfit after surviving the first leg unscathed, but Craig Moore, Celestine Babayaro and Peter Ramage are all short of match fitness while forwards Michael Owen and Shola Ameobi are season-long absentees. "We go into the game two goals in front," added Roeder. "I've heard some people say we need to score goals over there. Alkmaar certainly do, and we might have to score but no one knows how the game is going to pan out. At this stage 0-0 would do us nicely. We will play our normal game."
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