Newcastle United bowed out of the Europa League last night losing 4-2 on aggregate to a classy Benfica side, but at least the Magpies can be proud of their efforts on the night.
Coming back from two goals down was always going to be a tough ask against a side who just do not lose and like to score a lot of goals whilst avoiding defeat.
Domestically Benfica are unbeaten in 30 matches although continentally they have been beaten twice this term, once by Barcelona and once by Spartak Moscow, before they dropped out of the Champions League and into the Europa League. They’ve also scored over 100 goals already this term which isn’t too shabby.
However United had them on the ropes in the second period and were so close to pulling off what would have been a huge upset. In the end they had to settle for parity on the night and must now look back on a number of “what if” moments that have been seen over the two ties. What if one or both of Cisse’s efforts in Lisbon had been an inch inside the post? What if Davide Santon didn’t make that backpass? What if Steven Taylor hadn’t have made that handball? Fine margins is all we’re talking about about here.
The home side struggled to get going in the first period in truth and Benfica could and probably should have put the tie beyond doubt. First Lima forced Tim Krul into an early save from a cheeky back-heeled effort before the Dutchman was once again called into action to deal with Lorenzo Melgarejo’s heavy cross.
Benfica continued to create chances as United struggled to get a foothold in the game. Next up Lima rounded Tim Krul and squared the ball for Nico Gaitan to roll into an unguarded net but Massadio Haidara got back superbly to clear off the line. Eduardo Salvio also nodded a header wide of the post eight minutes before the interval in what was another close shave for United.
In truth the best the home side could muster in the first period was some long balls pumped up front, but with no outlet these didn’t come to anything and it was left to Gael Bigirimana to register our only shot on target of the half although his tame effort was easily collected by Artur in the Benfica goal. Papiss Cisse did have the ball in the back of the net on the stroke of half-time but it was correctly flagged for offside and in the end both sides went in at the break level on the night.
Half-time: Newcastle 0-0 Benfica (1-3 agg)
The start of the second-half saw Shola Ameobi replace Gael Bigirimana as the home side tried to take the game to Benfica, and it worked as the performance levels were much improved. Yohan Cabaye’s free-kick presented no danger to the visitors while Papiss Cisse found the back of the net again only to see his second effort of the evening correctly chalked off by the linesman.
Then came the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa, and it was his endeavour that led to United finding a way back into the tie with 20 minutes remaining. A probing run forward looked to have come to nothing but the former Marseille man persevered and managed to get the ball to Shola Ameobi who crossed for Papiss Cisse to nod home from point-blank range and score his fifth goal in his last five home games.
United then tried to turn the screws and enjoyed the bulk of the play without being really able to test Artur in the Benfica goal,but with moments left Ben Arfa danced into the box before blazing his effort high over the Gallowgate goal. It was to be our last chance.
As the home side continued to press, Benfica surged forward on the counter-attack with the extra time and space allowing Rodrigo to break down the right and cross for Salvio who slid in and effectively end the tie in stoppage time.
Full-time: Newcastle 1-1 Benfica (2-4 agg)
The standing ovation given to the players by those inside the ground on the night will say a lot more than I possibly could. They know we gave it a shot and they also understand that Benfica are a good team who have to be in with a shout of winning the competition.
It wasn’t to be for us and now it’s over. It’s been good though even if I have had reservations about the Europa League at times. Still now we can concentrate on securing Premier League safety and the little old matter of the visit of Sunderland on Sunday. One thing is for sure, and that is that if the team that finished the match last night can start the game this weekend and match the intensity which they played at in the second period we could give Sunderland a good seeing to.
Howay the lads!
Newcastle: Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara; Gael Bigirimana, Yohan Cabaye, Vurnon Anita, Jonas Gutierrez; Moussa Sissoko; Papiss Cisse
Subs: Rob Elliot, James Perch, Dan Gosling, Sylvain Marveaux, Hatem Ben Arfa, Adam Campbell, Shola Ameobi
Benfica: Artur, Lorenzo Melgarego, Luisao, Ezequiel Garay, Andre Almeida, Nico Gaitan, Nemanja Matic, Enzo Perez, Lima, Ola John, Salvio
Subs: Paulo, Oscar Cardoza, Pablo Aimar, Maxi Pereira, Rodrigo, Jardel, Andre Gomes