James Perch

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

A European campaign which started in scorching summer heat in Greece resumes against Metalist Kharkiv on Thursday night, with James Perch casting aside one of his superstitions for the round of 32 double-header.

Newcastle welcome the Ukrainian Premier League outfit to St. James' Park on Thursday night before heading to the Metalist Stadium seven days later, with either Anzhi Makhachkala or Hannover 96 awaiting the victors in the last 16.

Until recently, Perch had had refused to wear a tracksuit jacket all season - fine for an August evening against Atromitos but rather more challenging for a February visit to Eastern Europe.

But over the last few weeks, the versatile 27-year-old has been spotted wearing extra layers on a matchday and, when cornered by nufc.co.uk, he admitted that the prospect of a trip to a country where the temperature often drops below zero degrees may have been part of his thought process.

"To be honest, I think it was a little bit," he laughed. "But it was also the fact that we were having some absolutely stinking results earlier in the season.

"It wasn't working so I thought 'I'm not putting myself through this every week' so I put a jacket on. And to be fair, it's worked alright so I'll keep it on out there!"

Since their final Group D game in Bordeaux, United have waited for more than two months for the competition to resume and have brought in a host of new players, with Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara all eligible.

And Perch - who had never experienced European football until this season - is looking forward to the challenges ahead at home and abroad.

"It's been a long time coming - it's almost like we've forgotten about it over Christmas and all the rest of it but it's came back around," he said.

"I'm excited for the home game and excited to go away - even though it's going to be freezing!

"But I think the conditions are great for us, especially with the new squad we've got. We can go there really strong and try to win both legs."

During the group stages, Newcastle were particularly strong at St. James' Park, where they won two and drew one of their three games, and Perch knows another good result at home would set the Magpies up nicely for a potentially difficult second leg.

"That's the main aim," he said. "It's tough going away to any ground so if we can get some sort of lead after the home tie then we'll be happy to go there and try to keep hold of the lead - and build on it."

Tickets are still available for Thursday's game, and can be purchased by clicking here