St James Park
Cold, quiet and casual could be about the three kindest words levelled at the tie last night. Pre-match all the talk wasn`t even about the Belgians, as Alkmaar and Fenerbache battled it out over in Holland. With cheap flights waiting to be snaffled by those back home, all eyes were on the result of the game taking place the other side of the North Sea. In the end a 2-2 draw saw the Dutchies through after their first leg heroics in Istanbul.
Meanwhile back over on Tyneside early news from the Chronicle suggested Luque was going to start up front in place of the injured Sibierski. The paper also believed that it was going to be a 25,000+ crowd. On the night this proved to be correct as 30,083 hardy souls clicked through the turnstiles to watch an extremely uninspiring European tie. Obviously buoyed by the half term break, wouldn`t it have been a smarter solution to let kids in for a fiver? A full house, the next generation of customer pleased (or not, if they watched the game) and a bit of goodwill generated back into the community. Over to you Frederick…
The game itself saw the lads start quickly. Taylor had a header cleared off the line, Milner shot over and Luque did a backheel. Soon though the usual malaise set in, much like the two games against the Eastern Bloc boys earlier in the competition. With the tie comfortable, our midfield took turns to Ray Wilkins it all around midfield, with plenty of pretty passes but little end product (crabbing for the uninitiated). Waregem surprised us with a couple of pinpoint passes leading to their forwards running in on Harper. However first Titus and then Taylor put in cracking last ditch tackles to stop them testing Harps` gloves.
The second half saw Babayaro come off and be replaced by Huntington. Credit to Baba for playing through such an obviously torrid time of personal troubles but surely today would have been the best time to rest him, let him deal with his family tragedy and see him come back against Wigan after having some quality time with his brothers. Obviously we`re not party to what`s been said between him and Glenn, so who knows what he`s been like in training.
In the end it took one piece of quality to put the match to bed. Duff woke up long enough to slip a special through ball to Oba, who nonchalantly dinked it over the onrushing keeper. A quality finish and an eight out of ten for the cartwheel-somersault combo afterwards. Newcastle pressed for the rest of the match and saw a Milner free kick fly just past the post. In the end a smart block from MOTM Titus stopped Waregem`s best chance of the half, when Matthys went bundling through three of our players.
Overall it wasn`t a match that`ll rest high in the list of great European nights at SJP. The players were professional enough to get the job done, got a clean sheet and didn`t cripple themselves ahead of the Wigan match on Sunday. I`m not reading too much into it as a marker for Alkmaar as our players should be well up for that one and might actually get out of first gear. With the Dutch team riding high in the Eredivisie and coming off the back of a 3-2 win at Arsenal`s Champions League opponents PSV it should be a belter back at Gallowgate in a fortnight.
NUFC: Harper, Taylor, Bramble, Babayaro (Huntington 46), Milner, Solano, Butt (Pattison 65), Dyer, Duff, Luque (Carroll 65), Martins.
Subs n/u: Srnicek, O'Brien, Edgar, LuaLua
ZULTE: Bossut, Minne (Reina 76), D'Haene, Dindeleux, Buysse, Vandermarliere, Van Steenbrugge, Vannieuwenhuyse, Meert, Van Den Driessche (Sergeant 56), Siani (Matthys 56).
Subs n/u: Merlier, Verschuere.
Slightly alarming however that our star man in a walkover European tie was a centre half.