After some of his side's less
impressive performances Alan Pardew has trotted out a line about them being more flat beer
than champagne, but quite what alcohol-related comparison came to mind after
this non-display is a matter of conjecture.
As we were in wine-producing country, something along the lines of a young
vintage lacking body and with no discernible finish may be suitable. And as for
any mention of a special reserve, forget it.
Of course the actual result was
almost immaterial after successive draws against Brugge Maritimo left our
opponents this evening in poll position to win the group - Newcastle needing to
win what would have been their first away game of the season in order to finish
top and avoid the seeds.
That fact plus our concerning Premier League form and selection issues was
always going to result in a youthful and
inexperienced Magpies side contesting this game. However it's pertinent to
mention that Bordeaux indulged in a similar welter of changes from the side
that had drawn with Sochaux the previous weekend,
Ten of the dozen players used by Francis Gillot had come through the Girondins
Academy and included 19 year-old midfielder Biyogo Poko, making his first
start. Striker Cheick Diabate also featured and the lanky Malian scored in each
half before leaving the field to applause from home fans often critical of him
after just his meagre contribution of just two goals in 17 previous outings.
And had it not been for some outstanding saves from Rob Elliot, the
punishment could have been more severe for United. An early one-handed stop
from Henri Saivet will have given him confidence in what was only his fifth
club start, while he also did well to block efforts from Ben Khalfallah and ex-mackem David Bellion.
At the other end, Shola Ameobi had returned from injury to take the captain's
armband and resume an occasional partnership with Nile Ranger - back in favour
due to his improved attitude and effort and in no way included due to our
current plight and the desperate need for bodies from anywhere.
The return of ranger to the Magpies starting XI inevitably provoked
differing opinions among those present and earwigging a few
conversations, there seems to be a broad division on age lines: the younger
element unconcerned with his chequered history, but more senior fans in varying
stages of the "disgrace to the shirt / sack him" viewpoint.
For our own part, there's a certain discomfort seeing him trotting out on the
field after the multiple examples of immaturity and stupidity, but taking the moral high ground argument to its full extent would result in
not going within a country mile of professional football, never mind Newcastle
The previous ambivalence we felt with messrs Bowyer and Barton was complicated by
the fact that both had demonstrated some ability and tenacity on the field,
along with other more questionable attributes. And expanding that view, the
antics of Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy hardly fell into the positive role
model while they were on our payroll, but those episodes now seem largely
In that regard, Ranger has a harder job on his hands, having no previous
playing achievements to his name in our colours. His extended contract award
exactly two years ago was based on
unrealised potential and our not wanting to lose an asset cheaply - and sadly
nothing has changed, except that we'd now flog him for any sort of return to
cut our losses.
The only chance of that is to give him some pitch time and say vaguely nice
things about him, as Bobby Robson did with Silvio Maric. Having him score
against us in a giant-killing cup tie in a couple of years from now is an
occupational hazard that we're quite willing to take the risk on - if for no
other reason than seeing wrong 'uns prosper sticks in the throat.
Having said that, there is some element of talent in Nile and he did look to
have bulked up since last sighted, helping him when
tussling with defenders here and turning them with some success. Given the poor
service from Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and
Sylvain Marveaux, he had little choice....
Sammy duly paid the price for his aimless contribution when he was replaced by Vurnon Anita at the break
and United came out for the second half looking somewhat more purposeful. In what proved to be our best period of the contest, Shola had a fine
left-footed effort saved by Kevin Olimpa and Mehdi Abeid curled an effort wide
soon after, having made space for a shot on the edge of the box.
Gregory Sertic shaved the outside of Elliot's post with a 25-yard effort but
with Fabricio Coloccini ready to come on, the home side doubled their lead and
left us with the even more unlikely target of needing to score three times and
keep Bordeaux out in order to win the group.
Regardless of that, Pardew still opted to risk Coloccini and prompted further
bafflement by then putting on Papiss Cisse. Thankfully, neither appeared to pick up any injuries to impact
domestically, but opting to field both for no apparent reason was as
illogical as throwing on Cheick Tiote when losing in the FA Cup tie at
Stevenage back in 2011 - and seeing him promptly red-carded.
And were Williamson to have been carrying a knock then that would make risking
the last of our trio of "first-choice" central defenders in a
meaningless game an even more ludicrous decision.
Rather appropriately in this wine-producing region, we really were scraping the
barrel tonight and few of the fringe players did much to enhance
their reputations. A clutch of more
experienced performers meanwhile looked very much second best all night.
With no fewer than eleven league games now scheduled before our
next Europa League action, the excuse of being hampered by Thursday games is now no longer
valid though and with a fearsome set of fixtures on the horizon, a victory at
Fulham is essential.
on our success - or lack of it - we may well see this team sent out to face
Brighton in the FA Cup. It would be hard to imagine them playing worse than
they did tonight if that game gets switched to the beach. Those present
travelled here with low expectations - and left disappointed.