Europa League 2nd Leg Qualifier, St James’ Park, 30/Aug/12. KO: 8pm. Att: 29,242.
Well it hardly set the pulses racing, but there was no danger of the kinds of disasters visited upon us by Troyes, Partisan Belgrade or Deportivo as United advanced to the group stages of the Europa League with a comfortable 1-0 win over Atromitos.
Pardew started with a similar line-up to the away leg in Greece, but bought in our folically blessed captain to ensure absolute solidarity at the back, as well as Ba up front instead of Cissé. However, the first bit of flair came from Perch as he turned one of their lads nicely, and sent Obertan down the right wing. However, none but the most eternal optimist should have expected any kind of wizardry from the Frenchman, and he couldn’t produce a cross to match the Mansfiel Zanetti’s sterling work. There seemed to be a lot of buzz about that Obertan was man of the match around the ground, but frankly I thought he just ran up and down a lot without delivering much of an end product.
Perchinho was at it again a couple of minutes later as he bent a decent effort just wide from distance, and shortly after Marveaux was denied by a good save from their keeper after a nice little run inside from the left wing. Despite whatever nonsense may or may not have happened on the opening day of the premier League season it appeared that Marveaux was properly up for this rare chance in the starting line-up and he looked far more dangerous than his counterpart on the opposite wing. Unfortunately for him, and the nearly 30,000 in attendance, his finishing touch was not all there this evening.
After saving our blushes in the first leg, Ryan Taylor’s contribution was cut short on this occasion through injury, though that allowed for the introduction of Vuckic, who had been MIA since the Cardiff game in pre-season. He was quickly right in the thick of the action and scored the opening and only goal after his shot from distance was deflected past their keeper. The young Slovenian continued to threaten in the first half, but he could not take advantage of a couple of openings he had once he got into the Atromitos half.
The Greeks really only threatened the goal once in the first half, when a rare lapse in the United defence led to an opening, but Krul was quick to get down and block the shot. Collocini was outstanding all night. He was clearly a level above anyone on their side and he made it count by stopping almost everything that came remotely near the final third. Williamson was also pretty solid, though he should probably stick to staying back rather than trying any of that libero style nonsense that almost got him in trouble in the opening minutes.
The only other occasion that they got a sniff of the goalmouth in the first half was when the fantastically named Chumbinho got himself into the box and threw himself onto the ground with the kind of melodrama that was fully deserving of a booking. A feat that was equalled in the last couple of minutes by the desperate Kuqi. It was the right call on both occasions by the Swiss ref.
In the second half it seemed like it was pretty much job done for United, ans there wasn’t much of a sense of urgency getting forward.
Marveaux probably had the most promising opening, but he ran wide after it looked like he was through on goal. There was little threat from Ba, though he was harly blessed with the kind of service that gave him many opportunities to test their man between the posts. United were unable to capitalise on any of the many corners they won due to the fact that no-one seemed capable of knocking the ball over the head of the first defender. The only event of any interest (I suppose if you’re in to that sort of thing) was some lad who decided to run bollock naked across the pitch half way though the half.
Clearly the crowd and stewards had been bored to the point of unconsciousness in the second 45 minutes that no-one noticed him whip his keks off and vault the barriers.
Regarding some of the others who got run outs, Biggie was fine in central midfield, but still looks too raw to take on Tiote’s job against decent premier League opposition, and Dan Gosling was completely anonymous for most of the game. This looked to be a real opportunity for some players to stake a real claim to getting more of a look in for Premier League fixtures, but I think most of them did little more than solidify their places on the bench.
So, this was not the kind of performance that is going to strkie fear into the hearts of Europe’s brightest in the coming months. However, this was a inexperienced team who dealt with a team who finished in a respectable position in the Greek league pretty easily, despite a lack of experience, and time playing together.
Now let’s see about another striker shall we?
Newcastle United: Tim Krul 7, Danny Simpson 6, Fabricio Coloccini 8, Mike Williamson 7, Ryan Taylor (Haris Vuckic 7), Gabriel Obertan 6, Gael Bigirimana 7, James Perch 7 (James Tavernier 7), Sylvain Marveaux 8 (Amalfitano), Gosling 5, Ba 6.
Our Fans – 6: A pretty decent turn-out for an early European fixture, though a bit lacking in noise. Nice not to hear any abuse for our lads when things weren’t sticking.
Their fans – 7: Fair play to the 30 or so that rose above the restrictions of their economically challenged nation and made the trip. They made a racket for such a small group in the Leazes East corner and sang till the end.