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Magpies closer to last 32 after thrilling comeback
THE film 'In Brugges' tells the story of two hitmen forced to hide away in the Belgian city. Last night, Newcastle United were indebted to their own sharp-shooting marksman as they clawed back a two-goal deficit against Club Brugge to move another step closer to the knock-out phase of the Europa League.
Only Alan Shearer has scored more European goals for the Magpies than Shola Ameobi, and the 31-year-old added another success to his tally to complete a thrilling comeback that leaves Newcastle one point clear of Bordeaux at the top of Group D.
The strike was a family affair, with Sammy Ameobi feeding his brother in the penalty area, and came less than two minutes after Vurnon Anita had cracked in a superb first-time volley.
The quickfire first-half salvo dug Newcastle out of a considerable hole and followed early strikes from Brugge duo Ivan Trickovski and Jesper Jorgensen that owed much to some hesitant United defending.
With both Ameobis impressing in attack, the Magpies fully merited their point. However, the defensive weaknesses that were apparent throughout will have concerned Alan Pardew given the physical challenge that lies in wait when West Ham visit Tyneside on Sunday.
Last night, Pardew stuck to his tried-and-tested policy of making wholesale changes in Europe, but the presence of Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheik Tiote and Shola Ameobi meant Newcastle lined up with an experienced spine.
In theory, that should have guaranteed a high degree of poise and stability, but from the outset there was a nervousness and uncertainty about the Magpies' play that had not been apparent in any of their previous European matches.
Defensively, they were all over the place from the off, a surprise given that Mike Williamson started alongside Coloccini but perhaps a scenario that had been foreshadowed by Brugge's bright attacking in their 1-0 defeat at St James' Park.
The warning signs were apparent as early as the fourth minute as Gael Bigirimana sloppily conceded possession to enable Carlos Bacca to drill a low shot narrowly past the post.
Ryan Donk also flashed an early strike wide of the target, and while Gabriel Obertan wasted a decent opportunity to fire Newcastle into the lead when he placed a tame side-footed effort much too close to goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic, there was a high degree of inevitability about Brugge's 14th-minute breakthrough.
It continued a miserable few days for Coloccini, who had been outplayed by Luis Suarez prior to his dismissal at Anfield and who was at fault again as Trickovski scored.
Coloccini misjudged the flight of Donk's long ball over the top, and was unable to recover sufficiently to prevent Trickovski gaining possession and slotting beyond Krul. The similarities to Suarez's equaliser on Sunday were both obvious and alarming.
Worse was to come five minutes later as yet more defensive sloppiness resulted in Newcastle falling two goals behind.
James Tavernier's weak defensive header fell to the feet of Jorgensen on the edge of the penalty area, and the Dane drilled a low 20-yard strike into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
At that stage, it looked like being a wasted journey for the 8,000-or-so Newcastle supporters who had travelled to Belgium, many of whom were forced to watch the match on a big screen in the city centre despite thousands of empty seats inside the Jan Breydel Stadion.
The infuriation levels increased when Sylvain Marveaux somehow missed the ball completely on the edge of the six-yard box – the Frenchman is arguably the most underachieving member of the Newcastle squad at the moment – but this is a Newcastle side imbued with spirit and character, and two goals in the space of three minutes shortly before the interval turned the game on its head.
The first was a cracker, with Anita slamming home a ferocious first-time volley to claim his first goal for the Magpies. Tom Hogli headed Marveaux's left-wing cross in Anita's general direction, and the Dutchman steadied himself before slamming a fantastic strike past Jorgacevic.
Two minutes later and Newcastle were level, thanks in the main to a brotherly link up between the Ameobis.
Shola and Sammy were starting together for the first time in a senior setting, and they celebrated becoming only the third brothers to start a game in tandem for the Magpies with a well-worked strike.
Sammy took possession from Tavernier and fed his brother with a slide-rule pass. Shola advanced towards goal and squeezed a pinpoint finish between Jorgacevic and the post. He now boasts 14 European goals for Newcastle, a testament to both his predatory talents and longevity.
He came close with two more efforts shortly after the interval, nodding Marveaux's corner narrowly over the crossbar before rolling a shot marginally too close to Jorgacevic after dispossessing Brugge full-back Jordi, and there was an intensity and purpose about the visitors' second-half play that was not initially matched by their opponents.
Marveaux just failed to locate the top corner with a curler, Sammy Ameobi brought another low save out of Jorgacevic. Shambolic for most of the first half, Newcastle were comfortably on top for the first 20 minutes of the second, although Krul had to be at his most alert to deny Bacca when Brugge briefly rediscovered their attacking threat on the hour mark. With Bordeaux beating Maritimo, a winner would have guaranteed the Magpies a place in the Europa League's knockout phase and it almost came in the 74th minute as substitute Yohan Cabaye's floated free-kick evaded everyone, only to rebound to safety off the crossbar.