Our five year wait for European football ended tonight with a 1 v 1 draw in Athens against Atromitos.
It was 38C during the day in the Greek capital and the temperature barely dropped approaching the 2000 local kick off time.
Alan Pardew surprised a few by including Papiss Cisse in the starting XI. There was a shock start for 212 year old Steve Harper too, 16 months since he last started a game for the Mags. Before the game he joked that some of the lads have started calling him 'cocoon' because of it!
17 year old local lad Adam Campbell had been rumoured to make a start, but he had to make do with a spot on the bench.
Anita and Bigirimana, who from my perspective looked like twins during the game, also made their first starts since signing for the club.
Krul, Tavernier, Perch, Williamson, R.Taylor, Bigirimana, Anita, Marveaux (Gutierrez 70), Obertan, Gosling (Amalfitano 64), Cisse (Campbell 77).
Unused Subs : Krul, Santon, Cabaye, S.Taylor.
The first 20 minutes of the game were largely unremarkable with the heat clearly having an impact on the pace and style of the game. We kept possession well without ever really looking to threaten. There were a lot of short balls between the midfield and the back four.
Twenty minutes in, a deep cross from Tavernier out from the right exposed Itandje as he tried to gather it with one hand! This led to a number of aerial assaults throughout the game be it from corners, open play and throw ins.
Tavernier was repeatedly exposed by the same Atromitos move. Diagonal balls out to Epstein were poorly read by the youngster. Despite playing only yards away from his captain, the mistakes continued and we were punished the third time Atromitos took this approach. Tavernier misjudged the pass and then couldn't catch Epstein who finished smartly. James is playing with the big lads now so he needs to step up and take responsibility, but it was disappointing that it was a repetitive error. There were a number of examples of poor communication from 20 yards in throughout the game. But he is a cracking young talent and he will improve. 1 v 0 Atromitos. Two minutes later they tried the same again, but this time Anita covered and tidied up - that was the end of their Epstein vs Tav tactic.
We had far too many players drifting through the game with Gosling probably the worst culprit. He barely featured at all, although he did play a key role in winning the free kick that would lead to our goal. In the second half he upped his work rate but still did not influence the game at all. This is a critical time in the career of Dan Gosling - Pardew has never favoured him but he has been given opportunities to catch the eye. Unfortunately he was sent off at Norwich last season and then drifted through the game tonight, though he will probably receive more playing time in this long season that we face.
We had a couple of half chances as the half went on - a Ryan Taylor cross/ shot from a free kick on the left probably the best of them.
Just as the half was drawing to a close Gosling was fouled and yes, RYAN TAYLOR OVER THE WALL! He did it again. The wall jumped, the ball passed over them, dipped and beat Itandje's outstretched right hand! Brilliant. 1 v 1 and literally the last kick of the first half.
In the second half we bombarded their area and they looked pretty suspect under that approach. Andy Carroll will have a field day when he starts the second leg for us!
Gabriel Obertan had a decent dig at goal on the hour mark and a chance fell to Gosling from the resulting corner, but he headed wide.
Gosling was replaced a few minutes later as we welcomed another debutant - take a bow Romain Amalfitano.
66 minutes in an Obertan cross from the right was completely missed by Itandje. The ball fell to Cisse who seemed a bit surprised. He didn't control too well and Itandje recovered and won the ball as he tried to position himself for a shot. Papiss isn't quite into the swing of things so far this season.
On 73 Obertan ran at least 60 yards with the ball before squaring to Amalfitano. Unfortunately Cisse tried to help the ball along which held up the move and then Amalfitano's poor first touch killed it altogether.
17 year old North Shields nipper Adam Campbell made history when he took the pitch on 77. He becomes the youngest player to ever appear for Newcastle in European competition surpassing another AC who may well be back in Newcastle sometime soon.....
Amalfitano showed a nice bit of skill late on but it came to nothing. To be fair to him he showed more in his 25 minutes than Gosling had in the 65 beforehand.
Overall this was a comfortable, solid performance from the lads. A win would have been nice but bringing Atromitos over to Tyneside with the game all-square and an away goal in the bag is not a bad position to be in.
We should have done enough to ensure that we progress to the group stage, but we have been bitten before in Europe and so we can't take anything for granted.
Also a special mention to young 'Bigi' - only 18 years old, but a very sensible performance. Well done youngun!
MOTM: Ryan Taylor (the overwhelming winner via Twtpoll with 63% of the vote)
Next up we have it easy - the European champions at Stamford Bridge in only 46 hours time. Over to you Papiss.......
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