YESTERDAY was 80 years to the day from when Olympiacos were formed. But in all that time the Greek side cannot have played in a more madcap match than last night's incredible UEFA Cup defeat to Newcastle.

Three goals, two sending offs, two disputed penalties and a moment of utter chaos when referee Arturo Ibanez couldn't tell one Greek player from another - and that was all before half-time.

By the time Patrick Kluivert scored Newcastle's third in the 69th minute, Olympiacos lacked both spirit and discipline, while the Magpies were able to start making plans for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.

There is still a long way to go in this year's competition but, if last night's events are anything to go by, Newcastle's name could well be on the cup.

Graeme Souness' side played well enough to merit a victory in one of Europe's most unwelcoming arenas. But with luck on their side they came away with a result that was beyond their wildest dreams.

Grigoris Georgatos and Thanassis Kostoulas were both dismissed in the opening 45 minutes as the home side lost their heads and, more importanrtly, Ibanez lost control of what was going on around him.

Alan Shearer made the most of the first of a string of debatable decisions when he converted the early penalty that arose from Georgatos' red card .

While Predrag Djordjevic levelled with a spot-kick of his own, Laurent Robert's scintillating set-piece restored Newcastle's lead.

Robert's free-kick winner against Liverpool had been something special but, if anything, last night's effort was even better.

It capped another display of both style and substance from a player who has played an integral role in turning his side's season around.

Newcastle might have ultimately maintained their 100 per cent record in European away games this season, but Olympiacos' proven strength on Greek soil nevertheless forced Souness into changes.

Nicky Butt played alongside the equally abrasive Amdy Faye in a combative midfield that still contained the attacking talents of Kieron Dyer - making his 200th appearance for the Magpies - and Robert.

And that duo were prominent in an incredible first half. While Olympiacos' notoriously hostile fans ensured the game kicked off amidst a cacophony of firecrackers, nothing could have prepared either side for the explosive nature of the opening quarter of an hour.

Spanish referee Ibanez was the man at the heart of the action, awarding two disputable penalties and brandishing a red card before the smoke from the pre-match flares had even started to lift.

Newcastle were the beneficiaries of his first intervention, claiming a one-goal lead and a one-man advantage from their first attacking move of the game.

Faye's tenth-minute juggling act in midfield earned him half a yard of space and, with Dyer making a typically well-timed burst through the middle, the Senegal international produced a defence-splitting through ball to leave his fellow midfielder a clear run on goal.

Dyer reached the ball ahead of Antonis Nikopolidis but, after his initial shot clipped the Greek goalkeeper, his attempt to head the rebound into the net was hindered by a push in the back from the retreating Georgatos.

Ibanez's decision to award a penalty looked justified - his subsequent sending off of the Olympiacos wing-back was considerably less so - and Shearer gleefully slammed home the penalty to provide the most perfect of starts.

That perfection did not last long though as, within two minutes, the Spanish official had gone a long way towards evening things up by awarding an equally contentious spot-kick at the other end of the field.

O'Brien did little more than lean on Ieroklis Stoltidis in the box but, while the Irishman survived with only a yellow card, United's lead disappeared as Djordjevic beat Shay Given from the spot.

With Dyer and Robert breaking forward from the flanks, Newcastle's first-half display was as potent as anything they have produced this season.

Shearer's power and physical presence proved utterly unsettling to a Greek side showing none of the defensive prowess that has characterised much of their play this season, and the United skipper went tantalisingly close to scoring his second in the 18th minute.

His close-range header from Robert's driven corner was destined for the net until Olympiacos defender Dimitris Mavrogenidis nodded it off the line.

The frenzied atmosphere was clearly getting to everyone - Souness had to get to his feet to urge Robert to tone down his tackling at one stage - but, amidst the ensuing chaos, it was possible to hear a pin drop when Newcastle regained the lead nine minutes before half-time.

Kostoulas fouled Robert 25 yards from goal and, after picking himself up off the turf, the Frenchman made him pay by curling a fantastic free-kick into the top left-hand corner of the net.

That wasn't the end of Kostoulas' misfortune, however, as two minutes before the break the defender became the second player to see red, despite a bizarre mix-up initially looking like letting him off the hook.

The 29-year-old clearly clattered Butt on the edge of the centre circle. But after catching up with play Ibanez waved a yellow card at the nonplussed Djordjevic.

One of the linesmen eventually told the referee of his error and, after finally getting his notes in order, Kostoulas duly became the second Olympiacos player to be dismissed.

The second half was an inevitably more subdued affair, with Newcastle contentedly sitting on their lead and their opponents' nine men struggling to overcome their numerical disadvantage.

Shearer went close to extending the lead with a looping header that drifted narrowly wide of the post.

But after Souness had replaced both Dyer and Robert in a move aimed at protecting United's one-goal lead, one of his substitutes quickly played a pivotal role in extending it.

James Milner skipped past Giorgis Anatolakis on the left flank and, after his cut-back found Kluivert, the Dutch international caressed a clinical first-time finish past Nikopolidis

Result: Olympiacos 1 Newcastle United 3.

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