FINAL SCORE: Metalist Kharkiv 0 Newcastle United 1
NEWCASTLE United have enjoyed some memorable European victories in the last couple of decades, but few have been as heroic or hard-earned as this.
Shola Ameobi's second-half penalty secured the 1-0 win in Kharkiv's Metalist Stadium that took the Magpies through to the last 16 of the Europa League, but it was the quality and commitment of the visitors' defending that ultimately proved decisive.
Loading article content
Faced with a Metalist side who had not lost a European home game all season, Newcastle repelled everything their opponents threw at them during a dramatic final half hour that saw their goal come under increasingly intense pressure.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Fabricio Coloccini were outstanding at centre-half, with debutant Massadio Haidara and the recalled Danny Simpson equally effective in the full-back berths, before Tim Krul turned himself into the star of the show in the final 20 minutes.
Krul made four outstanding saves, two of which came within close proximity of each other during a particularly frantic 60-second spell, to prevent Metalist claiming the equaliser that might have resulted in a fraught finale.
As a result, Newcastle were able to celebrate their first European away win of the season, and arguably their greatest success on continental soil since Graeme Souness led his side to a 3-1 win in Olympiacos in March 2005. Lining up against Metalist, the Magpies certainly displayed their mettle.
Alan Pardew had spent the week leading up to last night's decider underlining his determination to name the strongest team possible, and while there were five changes from the line-up that had drawn on Tyneside seven days earlier, the strength of Newcastle's performance could hardly have been enhanced.
The fear prior to kick-off was that Metalist's high-energy approach would combine with the hostility generated by a near-capacity home crowd to ensure a difficult opening spell for the visitors, who did not have the cushion of a first-leg lead.
Instead, Newcastle cruised through the opening stages and continued to dominate in terms of possession throughout the opening hour.
Yanga-Mbiwa and Coloccini dealt with the threat caused by lone striker Jonathan Cristaldo with a minimum of fuss, while Yohan Cabaye dictated the tempo of the game from his deep-lying midfield role and ensured Metalist's attacking midfielders were denied the space they required to influence proceedings.
The visitors only suffered one scare before the interval, with Cristaldo directing a header narrowly wide of the left-hand upright after the overlapping Cristian Villagra successfully picked him out at the back post.
Cristaldo also saw a header from Jose Sosa's corner blocked by Yanga-Mbiwa, whose willingness to lay his body on the line was representative of Newcastle's whole-hearted and committed approach.
At the other end, first-half chances were equally as few and far between, although some of the link-up play between Moussa Sissoko and Papiss Cisse hinted at the possibility of a breakthrough.
Sissoko shot tamely at the legs of Olexandr Goryainov after Cabaye's 15th-minute through ball enabled him to break into the right-hand side of area, and the Metalist goalkeeper was called into action again three minutes before the interval.
This time it was Sissoko releasing Cisse into the penalty area, but the striker's hurried effort was placed much too close to Goryainov, who made another routine save.
The slickness of Newcastle's midfield interplay caused sporadic problems for the Metalist defence all night, although a lack of composure in the final third initially prevented the visitors from making a breakthrough.
The failing was apparent 11 minutes after the break as Sylvain Marveaux surged into the area after a crisp one-two with Sissoko, only to wastefully blaze his shot wildly over the crossbar.
The opportunity outlined Newcastle's growing dominance though, and they duly claimed the lead shortly after the hour mark.
The goal owed much to a calamitous error from Metalist centre-half Papa Gueye, who attempted to play a blind back-pass to his goalkeeper but misdirected things by a good four yards.
Sissoko stole in to win possession, and Goryainov was forced to chop him to the floor as he turned back towards goal. Shola Ameobi stepped up to the penalty spot, and hammered his 15th European goal into the middle of the net.
Suddenly, the complexion of the game was completely changed, with Metalist needing to score twice to progress.
Their attacking became increasingly frenetic, with the immediate introduction of substitutes Jaja and Willian tilting the balance of their side towards the attacking third.
Newcastle continued to defend resolutely though, with Simpson especially impressive as he returned to action at right-back, although the visitors were indebted to a flurry of fine saves from Krul as Metalist finally exerted some concerted pressure in the penalty area.
First, Villagra found Willian in the area, only for Krul to claw away the striker's chipped shot. Newcastle's Dutch goalkeeper has been their most impressive player for most of the season, but few of his efforts have matched the remarkable double save he produced in the 77th minute.
Both of the stops thwarted Cristaldo, with the first preventing the striker from scoring from 12 yards, and the second, a magnificent full-stretch fingertip effort, clawing the ball to safety after Metalist's Argentinian forward looked certain to find the bottom corner.
With the hosts becoming increasingly desperate late on, the Magpies were forced to display considerable resolve, but with substitute James Perch clearing a goalbound strike from Jaja off the line and Krul making another fine stop after Willian met a driven corner at the front post, Pardew's players held on for a notable success.
More Newcastle Utd News