As scripts go it was far from a classic. But in front of a near capacity crowd at St James Park a man who served Newcastle United loyally for the best part of two decades got a fitting chance to say farewell. Granted the result didn’t quite go the way that most expected. But those present witnessed a competitive if goalless contest, ultimately decided in favour of the visitors from Milan thanks to roulette of a penalty shoot out.
Whistler Mark Clattenburg did his best to ensure the right outcome.
However, Tino Asprilla failed to convert from the spot twice after being ordered to re-take his first effort, while even the man of the moment was unwittingly prevented from netting by the legs of Massimo Taibi.
During 20 years with his hometown club Steve Harper was a model pro, a dedicated servant and a selfless team player. And these qualities were on display in abundance during the shot stopper’s big night.
There was no song and dance made, no lap of honour and no tears. It wasn’t required – the host of star names on the under-card spoke volumes for the man himself. Instead the night was billed as a fundraiser for a cause close to the hearts of many in the region: the Bobby Robson Foundation.
Many had wondered if Harper’s injury would prevent him from participating and leave him looking on from the bench at Shay Given for one final time. This was never going to happen mind and, donning the number 1 jersey, the Seaham Born star took up his place between the sticks.
And the no 1 weathered the early storm with the Milanese looking sharp from the word go. Mackem boss Paolo Di Canio, who had earlier lapped up the frosty reception he received from the crowd, in particular was a thorn in United’s side.
The game itself was far from fluent, the sheer number of substitutions preventing any chance of this happening.
In typical Milan fashion the visitors defended resolutely, although Tino Asprilla nearly put Newcastle ahead with an acrobatic effort that looked destined for the bottom corner before the intervention of Sebastiano Rossi.
That was about it in terms of first half excitement, but from a United point of view it sprung into life in the second half. Asprilla had a header from a Keith Gillespie centre disallowed for offside, before Alan Thompson’s 30-yard pile driver was tipped over by Tiabi.
Andy Cole was then denied twice, firstly by Taibi and then by the upright, but try as they might the Newcastle side could not get the ball in the net.
The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for a scything challenge on Di Canio by none other than Joey Barton.
That said, from the Gallowgate at least, the reaction of both players afterwards suggested it might have been set up for entertainment purposes.
Nevertheless Barton’s name rung around SJP for the next five or so minutes. Quite what the on-looking Alan Shearer thought of this is anybody’s guess.
And that was that really.
A fitting tribute to the made who made almost 200 appearances for the club, even if most probably would have harboured hopes of a few more goals.
From a Milan perspective Maldini, Costacurta and Baressi looked class, their first touch and vision still being a sight to behold, even if their legs don’t quite do what they used to.
As much as it pains me to say it Di Canio also looked half decent – let’s just hope the madman was using the match to test his fitness before signing playing terms for them down the road.
For us Dabizas was a rock at the back, while Solano, despite having put on a few pounds, still has a wand of a right foot.
Pedro still makes the game look easy, Rob Lee was in total control in the centre and Ginola went on a few of those mazy runs that we all remember so well.
Oh and Paul Kitson is still rubbish!