Defensively solid Newcastle earn Moscow draw

Posted by Marc Duffy

On a day when it was revealed that Newcastle United's captain and first choice centre half Fabricio Coloccini had broken two bones in his back, his teammates put in an excellent defensive performance in their 0-0 draw with Anzhi Makhachkala in their Europa League last 16 first leg in Moscow.

- Match report: Anzhi 0-0 Newcastle

Coloccini's injury is a huge blow for the club as they battle on two fronts: Aiming to secure their Premier League status while hoping to claim their first silverware in 44 years with the Europa League Cup.

The good news is that Newcastle new boy Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is the man most likely to replace Coloccini, not just through this injury, but for the long term as the Argentinian looks likely to return to his homeland once the season is over. Based on Mbiwa's display in Baltic conditions tonight, he's more than capable.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew picked a surprising team for such a big game. After positive noises coming from the Newcastle camp about how they want to take this competition seriously, only four first team 'regulars' started the game: Mbiwa, Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and the returning Hatem Bem Arfa.

The absence of Papiss Cisse through injury and the lack of quality alternatives meant Newcastle started the game without a recognised striker.

Conditions were freezing in the Luzhniki Stadium and most of the Newcastle team took to the field in tights! None of their opponents did. The 4G artificial pitch looked frozen solid and the pitch was surrounded by a wall of snow.

The first half was severely lacking in entertainment. Anzhi enjoyed 73% possession but barely mustered a shot -- Samuel Eto'o fired one straight at Rob Elliot but other than that, neither keeper had much to do. In fact, Newcastle failed to take a single shot at goal in the opening 45. The only other notable first half incident was an injury to Anzhi's new 35 million pound man Willian, who had to leave the field and was replaced by six-foot eight-inch Ivorian Lacina Traore.

Newcastle improved as an attacking threat in the second half although Ben Arfa was often left as a lone front man. Clearly, this is a role that doesn't suit him.

It took 61 minutes for the first big chance of the game -- an Eto'o shot that saw the ball fly through Danny Simpson's legs leading Rob Elliot to produce an excellent save diving to his right and tipping the ball around the post.

Newcastle had their first chance of the game two minutes later and probably should have scored. Vurnon Anita squared a ball to Cabaye who threaded a pass through to Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa took the shot on himself as he tried to lob the advancing Anzhi keeper Vladimir Gabulov, but Gabulov remained upright and saved the ball easily. If Ben Arfa had squared to his left, Cabaye would have had an open goal. That was Ben Arfa's last action of the game as Shola Ameobi came on to replace him, although Ben Arfa will have better nights as his fitness can be a real boost.

Steven Taylor came on for Anita (and was greeted by Eto'o) while Cheick Tiote replaced Cabaye as Newcastle closed the game out. 0-0 at full time and an intriguing second leg lined up at St James' Park next Thursday evening.

It's now over seven hours since Newcastle managed a goal from open play in Europe but it is the quality of the defensive performance that should gain the attention tonight. Newcastle have given themselves a great chance of progressing into the last eight.

The Coloccini injury

The broken bones in Coloccini's back means that he will be out for up to seven weeks. That would take us to early May -- perhaps he might be back in time for a farewell appearance at the Europa League final in Amsterdam? We can always hope!

It would be a real shame if it was to be the last we saw of Coloccini. If it is, it is quite fitting that the injury came from a couple of keepy-ups and an overhead volleyed clearance!

I hope we see him again before the season is out and I am sure we will. He has gone back to Argentina to rest and recuperate.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

ESPN Conversations