Newcastle moved into pole position for qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League by beating Belgian outfit Club Brugge 1-0 at St James’ Park last night.
Newcastle controlled the game for large periods of the match but were unable to put the result beyond doubt leading to some anxious moments for the home crowd.
The home side, sporting their lime green “European” kit, grabbed hold of the game from the off limiting Brugge to counter-attacks that never really amounted to anything. However Maxime Lestienne looked lively on the left of their midfield with has pace and direct running casing some cause for concern on those rare moments when Brugge had possession of the ball in the opening exchanges.
Possession was to be a key highlight of the first half. Newcastle, set in a 4-3-3 formation with the midfield manned by a enforcing trio of Cheik Tiote, Gael Bigirimana and Vurnon Anita, were often n hand to spread the play about, but none of them had the penetration the likes of a Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa could offer. he result was lots of ball retention with not a lot of chances being created for central striker Papiss Cisse.
Inevitably when the first chance was created it fell to our out-of-sorts hitman. Shane Ferguson curled in a delightful left-wing which was inch perfect for Cisse to attack. The Senegal striker connected well with the header although unfortunately it was directed straight at Bojan Jorgačević in the Brugge goal who was on hand to save.
Cisee could perhaps feel aggrieved not have been awarded a “pelanty” shortly after when he was crawled all oer by Brugge defender Carl Hoefkens. Stuart79 summed it up perfectly when he said that “if it had been on the half-way line it would have been a free-kick” in our ‘Game On’ article.
Further chances for Cisse followed. He headed over the bar from 12 yards and then trapped a fine Cheik Tiote ball, turned inside two defenders before skewing his shot well off target. Finally he managed a snapshot from 25 yards out which stung the palms of Jorgačević in much the same way a similar effort from Sammy Ameobi did as the first half drew to a close.
Half-time: Newcastle 0-0 Club Brugge
Alan Pardew made a change at half-time with Vurnon Anita withdrawn in favour of Shola Ameobi which meant a return to a regular 4-4-2, with the logic being to add a bit more pressure on the Brugge defence. However it was the younger brother of Ameobi senior who eventually opened up the Belgian defence just three minutes into the second half.
Ameobi jumior collected the ball inside his own half, with a neat trick, managed to break clear of his Brugge counterpart before sprinting clear and then playing in Gabriel Obertan on the right. The Frenchman showed some uncharacteristic poise by ensuring his first touch took him into the box where he unleashed a fierce right-footed shot into the far corner of the Gallowgate goal. The Brugge ‘keeper did get a hand on the ball but the shot was far too hard for him to handle. 1-0 Newcastle.
Newcastle continued to dominate with really looking like extending their lead. Shane Ferguson and Shola Ameobi both tried to extend the lead from distance but both failed rather miserably.
But the away side weren’t out of it yet and they very nearly got back into the game just after the hour mark. Maxime Lestienne cut into the penalty area and sold Bigirimana the dummy. The former Coventry man bought it up front and slid in only to be left in the wake of Lestienne who saw his shot turn into a cross which Carlos Bacca nodded into the ground before watching the ball bounce agonisingly just over the crossbar.
The match finished off with little goalmouth action to report. Brugge tried to press for the equaliser but were unable to break down United whilst the home side struggled to put the game beyond doubt and in the end that solitary strike from Obertan was enough to secure all three points on Tyneside.
Full-time: Newcastle 1-0 Club Brugge
The result leaves us top of the group on seven points, three points ahead of our closest rivals Bordeaux. Realistically a win and a draw from our remaining three group games will be enough to see us qualify for the knockout although depending on who those results come against will depend on whether those results are good enough for top spot in the group or whether we’ll need to make do with second place and a slightly tougher draw in the next round.
Newcastle: Steve Harper; Davide Santon, Steven Taylor, James Perch, Shane Ferguson; Cheik Tiote, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigirimana; Gabriel Obertan, Papiss Cisse, Sammy Ameobi
Subs: Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Adam Campbell, Shola Ameobi, Demba Ba
Club Brugge: Bojan Jorgačević, Tom Høgli, Carl Hoefkens, Lior Rafaelov, Jordi Figueras, Jesper Jørgensen, Jonathan Blondel, Maxime Lestienne, Bart Buysse, Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Carlos Bacca
Subs: Vladan Kujović, Björn Engels, Jannes Vansteenkiste, Víctor Vázquez, Thibaut Van Acker, Björn Vleminckx, Ivan Tričkovski