Newcastle secured a valuable away point in Portugal last night to start our Europa League campaign off on a steady footing.
A much changed side hit the woodwork three times on the night and created enough chances to have won the game. However it could have been worse for United but for our own crossbar and the intervention of Davide Santon who both worked together to clear a Valentin Roberge header off the line.
Senior stars such as Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, were all left at home while Vurnin Anita jetted back home due to his wife going into labour. That meant starts for the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Dan Gosling, Gabriel Obertan, Romain Amalfitano and Haris Vuckic while Shola Ameobi was tasked with playing the lone striker role. Rob Elliot played his first game in goal for a year as Steve Harper was also rested and had to make do with a place on the bench.
It was a slow start for a Newcastle side that started the game on the backfoot and could have fallen behind with less than two minutes on the clock when David Simao found space on the left to send in a dangerous cross which was only just too strong for Heldon as he slid in.
The hosts passed the ball nicely and at times they looked too much for Newcastle during the opening exchanges. Had it not been for Rob Elliot the game could have been out of reach for United. The former Charlton stopper pulled off a smart save to keep out Sami’s 11th-minute volley and then blocked with his legs after the striker had run clear of the United defence.
But having endured a difficult start to the game, the Magpies gradually started to find their feet and went close to the opening goal on four different occasions inside four first-half minutes. Gael Bigirimana saw his 27th-minute corner tipped over by goalkeeper Romain Salin as it threatened to dip under the crossbar and then French midfielder Romain Amalfitano had a goal-bound volley blocked after connecting with another Bigirimana corner.
Then Mike Williamson managed to find the ball at his feet inside the penalty area and, when his shot was deflected, Ameobi dived in to head the ball towards goal where it hit the post and was scrambled away to safety by the recovering Maritimo ‘keeper.
Dan Gosling was then denied by the opposite post when his 25-yard drive hit the foot of the post with Salin beaten.
Half-time: S.C. Maritimo 0-0 Newcastle
Newcastle could have taken the lead early in the second half when Shola Ameobi strolled into the penalty area and sidestepped Roberge before curling a shot past the Maritimo ‘keeper only to see his effort rebound off the bar.
Shola’s brother Sammy was introduced early in the second half, and it was the Ameobi brothers who combined to forge the next chance for Romain Amalfitano although the summer signings shot was high, wide and not so handsome.
However there was still danger for United and the home side could have gone ahead on the hour mark when Maritimo’s on Sami found space on the left and crossed the ball for Fidelis who fired wide first time with Rob Elliot beaten.
Back at the other end Shola Ameobi again went close when he turned Guilherme after a pass by Davide Santon although his effort was weak and was saves by Salin.
With ten minutes left Newcastle very nearly lost the game after Maritimo captain Roberge headed a corner against the underside of the crossbar with Davide Santon perfectly placed to head the ball clear before it crossed the line thus avoiding any repeat of the incidents witnessed at Goodison Park on Monday.
Full-time: S.C. Maritimo 0-0 Newcastle
There were some good performances for us on a pitch that, by all accounts, both teams struggled with. I though Gael Bigirimana and Dan Gosling were excellent in midfield. They broke up play, distributed the ball well and helped support any attacks. Rob Elliot was also good in the Newcastle goal and pulled off some decent saves early on whilst controlling his penalty area. He made all the right calls and claimed the ball when he needed to.
Yes we perhaps should have won when you see the chances that we had, but an away point will do for me. If we can pick up points away from home whilst winning our home games that will be enough to get us out of the group.
It’s not all doom and gloom!
S.C. Maritimo: Salin, Briguel, Guilherme, Roberge, Olim, Miranda, Luiz, Heldon, Simao, Sami, Dias
Subs: Lima, Diogo, Rosario, Rossi, Abreu, Fidelis, Adilson
Newcastle: Rob Elliot, James Perch, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson, Davide Santon, Gabriel Obertan, Gael Bigirimana, Dan Gosling, Haris Vuckic, Romain Amalfitano, Shola Ameobi
Subs: Steve Harper, James Tavernier, Shane Ferguson, Mehdi Abeid, Sylvain Marveaux, Sammy Ameobi, Adam Campbell