A bright start turned into a dismal ending last night as Newcastle fell to defeat by a score of 3-1 against Benfica at Estadio da Luz.
The away side had started brightly and even managed to take the lead through Papiss Cisse, but ultimately it was mistakes at the back which cost the game and now United find themselves with a lot of work to do if they are to make the Semi Final of the Europa League.
A strong side was named but ultimately it wasn’t enough to grab a result against a team that have scored well in excess of 100 goals this term and who haven’t lost a European fixture on home soil for over five years. The team that dropped into the Europa League from the Champions League weren’t great at the back, but in attack you can see why they have proven to be so dangerous this season, with pace and movement ensuring Tim Krul earned his corn on his return to the side.
United had the first chance of the game with just 80 seconds on the clock although Papiss Cisse fired wide. Just a couple of minutes later and it was Cisse again who nearly got on the end of a dinked ball from Sylvain Marveaux although I get the feeling that the Senegal international didn’t gamble on the Benfica defender missing his clearing header.
At the other end Benfica had been quiet an United had things relatively under control with only a swerving shot from Nicolas Gaitan causing Tim Krul any concern as it took two attempts to bring the ball under control.
That was on 10 minutes, but just two minutes later United found themselves ahead. Danny Simpson played in Moussa Sissoko on the right and the former Toulouse man crossed for Cisse to slide in and nudge the ball into the back of the net.
It could have got even better for the away side 23 minutes in after Jonas Gutierrez crossed for Cisse who saw his effort nudged onto the post by the hand of the ‘keeper before managing to dive on the rebound. It was a missed chance that United would rue.
Benfica went straight up the other end on the attack and even though Krul proved equal to Oscar Cardozo’s wicked shot he couldn’t deflect it out of the path of the onrushing Rodrigo who slammed home the rebound and level the scores on the night.
That goal gave Benfica the spark they needed but they found Tim Krul in fine form and he saved from Rodrigo, Andre Gomes, Rodrigo again and Matic in a performance that was reminiscent of his debut in Palermo over six years ago. Thanks to Krul, United managed to hold on and went in at half-time with the scores level.
Half-time: Benfica 1-1 Newcastle
The home side may have finished the first period on top but United nearly made them pay within minutes of the restart when Sylvain Marveaux played in Papiss Cisse. The Senegalese hitman lobbed the ball over the onrushing Artur only to see his effort rebound off the post after what seemed like an eternity.
Benfica were starting to get frustrated when Cardozo shot wide from eight yards out and you got the feeling that United might just get something to take back to St James’ Park next week. However United, in defence especially, contributed to their own downfall and two absolute howlers in six second-half minutes cost us the game and more than likely the tie.
First off it was Davide Santon who tried to pass the ball back to Krul under pressure from a Benfica attacker. Substitute Lima read the back pass (it wasn’t hard to do!) and latched onto the ball rounding Tim Krul and slotting the ball into an empty net from a narrow angle.
Then Steven Taylor made a howler as he handballed from a Benfica corner. It was clear despite his protestation that another part of his anatomy was used and the penalty was awarded. Oscar Cardozo slammed home the first penalty only for a retake to be ordered due to encroachment. It didn’t matter as Cardozo fired that one home too.
Another goal for United would have made things interesting in the second leg but from then on it was always likely to be Benfica who would extend the lead if anything. In the end, United got away with the score of 3-1 when it could have been more, for either side.
Full-time: Benfica 3-1 Newcastle
United have to be faultless next week if they are to progress. It’s unlikely that we’ll manage it in fairness but I saw enough last night to know that we can cause Benfica problems. Where we do need to sort things out though and perform better is at the back, for obvious reasons. You just can’t gift goals like that at this level and expect to get away with it.
It’s going to take a huge effort to get out of the mess we’ve found ourselves in, and with the Mackems visiting just three days later I’m now finding myself asking whether it is that game we should be concentrating on now and not the second leg of this tie?
Onwards and upwards!
Benfica: Artur; Andre Almeida, Luisao, Ezequiel Garay, Lorenzo Melgarejo; Ola John, Nemanja Matic, Andre Gomes; Rodrigo, Oscar Cardozo, Nico Gaitan
Subs: Paulo Lopes, Roderick Miranda, Pablo Aimar, Lima, Maxi Pereira, Urreta, Enzo Perez
Newcastle: Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Davide Santon; James Perch, Yohan Cabaye; Sylvain Marveaux, Moussa Sissoko, Jonas Gutierrez; Papiss Cisse
Subs: Rob Elliot, Mike Williamson, Dan Gosling, Vurnon Anita, Gabriel Obertan, Shola Ameobi, Adam Campbell