Friday, November 23, 2012
Newcastle stumble to qualification
Kristan Heneage, St James' Park
Newcastle were forced to work for the point that secured their place in the last 32 of the Europa League after a late goal from Fidels cancelled out a first half Sylvain Marveaux strike.
On a briskly cold evening in the North East, Maritimo coach Pedro Martins donned a bright, if not warm looking, white puffer jacket - an acclimatised Alan Pardew opting for his usual fitted suit. The cold did seem to affect his players, however, with Newcastle's starting eleven coming out on top in the outfield player wearing glove stakes.
With Alan Pardew having been keen to afford his younger squad members time in Europe this season, it was the turn of Sammy Ameobi, Gael Bigirmana and substitute Mehdi Abeid to compliment what was a strong Newcastle side on paper.
The early pacing of the game was frenetic, with the well drilled visitors able to produce some neat interplay, the clinical crescendo to their attacks sadly missing for the majority of the evening. Alan Pardew chose to include Hatem Ben Arfa for the first time this season in Europe and he may now wish he hadn't after the mercurial playmaker hobbled off with an injury before the half was finished after a nasty lunge from David Simao.
When the opening goal did arrive, it provided those locals who'd chosen to brave the weather welcome relief. Sylvain Marveaux, a man who'd previously played nine hundred minutes without a goal, netted his first for the club - the neat finish allowing him the chance to vent some of the understandable frustration he has accrued since joining from Rennes last summer.
In the second half, the Portuguese side entered the field with a renewed sense of vigour. As Martins constantly ushered his side forward from the sideline, they began growing in confidence and dominating possession. His opposite number was eager to use the game to restore some credibility to Newcastle's home form, but the high level of organisation from their opponents meant that for the majority of the evening it was Newcastle doing the chasing.
After such a convincing first home fixture in Group D, it was clear his side's lack of fluency in midfield and attack was bothering Pardew - his notepad holding not only a great quantity of ink, but also a few handprints from his slaps of frustration. If their manager was frustrated, the fans weren't letting it spoil their evening. Choruses of 'Don't sell Cabaye', to the tune of Billie Ray-Cyrus classic 'Achy breaky heart', a cute, if not original accompaniment to the evening.
Given so few Maritimo fans decided to make the trip across to England, chants of a Portuguese nature were in short supply on Tyneside. The Newcastle fans did their best to incite the visitors with the usual terrace chants, but to no avail. If they were hoping for noise from the pocket of travelling fans, then they received their wish with just over ten minutes remaining when Brazilian substitute Fidels burst through the Newcastle backline and fired a low drive through the legs of Tim Krul, allowing Martimo's fans to indulge in a unison cry of 'Gol'.
The goalscorer would involve himself in a tete a tete with Fabricio Coloccini not too long after the goal, giving more fuel to the scurrilous rumours that Argentines and Brazilians don't always see eye to eye. The goal was just reward for a side that had come close a number of times and also served as a catalyst for Maritimo.
They now had the self belief that they could win the game and were desperately trying to do so. By contrast, the home side were struggling and looking cumbersome. If there was any doubt that Newcastle's direct style was not to the taste of Demba Ba, then his frustrated demeanour gave every indication that he was longing for the more intricate play of last season.
As the game petered towards an end, the hoarding of advertising that Mike Ashley's infamous sports stores now offer discounts to those in Portugal could serve as benefit to Newcastle, with the unlikely theory that soaring business profits could see the club indulge in January the only real crumb of comfort on what was a tough fixture to watch.
Afterwards, a relaxed Pedro Martins spoke of his pride at what his side achieved in particular for the island of Madeira. Believing the club were not inferior to their Premier League opponents at home or away - their well drilled, neat passing was a constant irritation to a Newcastle side struggling for form or cohesion. A short run in the last 16 is likely if the quality of tonight's performance is ever repeated.