Sporting Lisbon (h) UEFA Cup Quarter Final 1st leg
37 mins Shearer headed goal at the Leazes end. 1-0
Half time: Newcastle 1 Sporting 0Full time: Newcastle 1 Sporting 0
After the game Graeme
José Peseiro said:
Alan Shearer extended the club European scoring record to 28 goals while Shay Given reached a landmark 50 European appearances.
A fair number of the 36,753 present at this game
will have seen Premiership Champions-elect Chelsea destroy the top
team in Germany on the box the night before, thumping four goals past
Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge.
Those of us who would have quite happily seen both of them depart after the Villa punch-up probably did the decent thing and remained silent - I've never booed a Newcastle player and I never will - but it was fairly staggering to hear the two transgressors cheered by a substantial number.
In a world that just gets progressively more baffling to these eyes I'll console myself with the thought that it was a show of strength to the media vultures ready to pick at the latest black and white carcass. A communal two-fingers to those who revel in our self-inflicted misery.
The Sporting away kit should never be inflicted on an unsuspecting public but we've had to endure it three times now. Apart from the infamous Coventry chocolate kit, it's difficult to think of a worse kit. No doubt one of our lot spotted it in August and we'll all be wearing it at the start of next season, muttering that "it's not that bad, actually".
The ground seemed a lot fuller than press reports had suggested and although level 7 was fairly empty, I'm not quite sure where nearly 15,500 could have been. The areas of the ground that were full seemed pretty densely populated to me. The pre-match atmosphere wasn't bad, though, and with a chill in the air and the floodlights on a memorable European night seemed possible.
The line-up wasn't the most nerve-settling: Hughes and O'Brien are good honest professionals and I've got all the time in the world for them but most of us know that they aren't quite good enough and they make too many errors. Taylor is still a little naive but showing promise and Carr still has a hung jury. We really miss Boumsong in Europe.
The midfield also struck me as a bit weak. In terms of talent it was strong but Jenas, Dyer and Robert in the same side always leaves us short of bite and that so the pressure was on Faye to be the spoiler. In the end, he did pretty well while Jenas had a stinker and Robert once again did his impression of the special subbuteo player that just got brought on for the corners and free-kicks.
The thing is with Robert, the majority of his corners are awful and his free-kicks are erratic. However, you just know that one during the 90 minutes will be perfect and end up producing a goal. That proved top be the case, although it could be argued that he produced two and a tackle before being hauled off by Souness.
The first came just after the half hour when Robert sent over a cross that Shearer headed into the far corner but the defenders, goalkeeper and Shearer himself knew that it wouldn't stand, with only Robert protesting to any real degree. The re-take wasn't great and the chance had gone.
Before that it looked like we would cause their defence all sorts of problems with Dyer very busy and their very high backline struggling to cope with the midfielder's runs. There were chances to send Ameobi through but the gangling striker is terrible at judging offside and the one time he timed his run, Dyer didn't release the ball and was tackled. Thankfully Ameobi and his team mates remained tight-lipped and didn't ask Dyer why he hadn't passed....
The visitors were hurling themselves to the ground at every opportunity and even when there was contact it was amazing to see their histrionics. One offender was 'keeper Ricardo who made Taylor's oscar-winning performance on Saturday look very amateur with his incredible over-reaction to contact with Ameobi.
The challenge was fair and should have resulted in a corner for us but the keeper writhed on the floor, so much so that when the referee went over to check on his injury, Ricardo almost assaulted him with one of his death throes. The wound turned out to be nothing more than a shaving nick by his ear and after it took four minutes to stop the bleeding, play resumed with Ricardo bravely picking himself up off the canvas. Ponce.
Unfortunately our lot were less skilled in the art of diving and when Dyer tried it he immediately realised it was a rotten attempt and leapt up to avoid an inevitable booking. He was successful but it spoiled any future vote of sympathy from the Russian ref and we suffered later in the game.
But on 37 minutes Robert got another chance to send over the free-kick he had practised earlier. It was just a shame that the Lisbon defence knew what was coming. Well, they should have known but Shearer was allowed another free header and rather than glancing it into the far corner he bulleted this effort past a static keeper to give us the lead.
Still the Sporting players flung themselves to the floor and still the ref allowed them to do so, although to be fair he rarely awarded a free-kick in their favour. Then deep into the four minutes of injury time Shola raced through on goal only to be upended by Anderson Polga.
A red card would have been harsh, given that it was Ameobi he fouled and so a goalscoring opportunity probably wasn't denied, but incredibly referee Baskakov waved play-on as the Sporting defender looked sheepishly at the official.
The decisions got worse in the second half, as did the diving with incidents beginning to border on the farcical. A bizarre drop-ball seemed to take place with no Newcastle player involved and the ironically named Sporting amazingly kept the ball. Shearer tried to protest but if the ref did know any English it didn't matter - he was on a different planet.
Luckily the decisions didn't prove costly, until near the end that is. Ricardo made a mess of a clearance and hit the ball straight against Shola who was about to put the ball into an empty net. He was penalised, presumably for handball but if Ameobi had been a defender in the box it would never have been given as a penalty.
Dyer was also earlier denied a penalty claim and if the referee believed it was another dive then our man should have definitely been booked. Dyer was replaced not long after as Bowyer and Dyer exchanged more words and blows as one subbed the other. Thankfully they were of the friendly high-five variety this time and the week's big tabloid story was smothered in a large wet blanket.
Sporting threatened our goal surprisingly little, given that they were the better footballing side and the amount of possession we surrendered. Harper, who had replaced Given at half-time made one outstanding fingertip save low to his left which may have just crept in but other than that Harps had a quiet night.
The tit-for-tat bookings of Liedson and then Hughes robbed both sides of players for the second leg but if this was chess, we sacrificed a pawn for a bishop with the Sporting man looking dangerous.
A few performances from our lot deserve special mention. Steven Taylor was outstanding and it's difficult to believe he's still just 19. His composure at the back was tremendous and on the one occasion where he mis-kicked in the box, he deservedly got away with it. Likewise his captain was a tower of strength and got the vital goal and led the line superbly.
At the other end of the spectrum came Ameobi and Jenas. Both had very forgettable games. For me, Shola has now done more than enough to suggest that he's simply not good enough. Surely Souness and his ample backroom staff can see what the rest of us can see and the end of the season is time to allow Shola to "pursue his England career" elsewhere. Until Kluivert can stir himself, though, we have limited options.
And as for England careers, the old adage about it being harder to get out of the England squad than it is to get in it, is certainly true of young JJ. Once he has learned to control a football, he might be a decent player but his first touch is Conference standard, let alone the best in this land.... He's definitely going through one of his bad patches at the moment.
All in all, the result far outweighed the performance - any sort of victory coupled with a clean sheet is an excellent outcome at home. Even if Sporting get the two goals they need next week, a jammy last minute away goal would still see us through.
A single goal victory at home against this lot was good enough in 1968 and another 1-1 draw in Lisbon would be very welcome. No team has managed to score twice so far in the previous four games. Hopefully that run continues.