Newcastle United 2 Celta Vigo 1

NEWCASTLE UNITED'S grueling schedule has stretched a small squad to its limits, but there is no end in sight to the busy programme after successfully booking a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup last night.

The 24th game of a hectic opening four months has taken its toll on Glenn Roeder's men, but they managed to conjure up a third successive win in the group of death that ensured qualification.

As has been the case on three other occasions in this competition, Antoine Sibierski was one of the heroes when he rose at the far post to head in Newcastle's equaliser eight minutes before half-time.

And, five minutes from time, Steven Taylor's first goal for the club he has supported since childhood meant Celta Vigo's name could be added to previous successes over Fenerbahce and Palermo in Group H.

That didn't look like being on the cards when Celta Vigo took the lead early on through the creative Fabian Canobbio's fantastic left foot strike into Shay Given's net.

But Newcastle, struggling at the wrong end of the Premiership with the daunting visit of Portsmouth on the agenda this Sunday, responded in the right manner against a team that has already beaten Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna this season.

Now the trip to Eintracht Frankfurt next week is nothing more than an opportunity for Newcastle to cement top spot, with knock-out UEFA Cup football at the start of 2007 guaranteed.

Given the size of his squad and the injury problems faced by Roeder, it was little wonder he claimed he was having to walk on eggshells around his players, in fear of more breaking down.

This was their sixth game in 21 days and the first of eight before Christmas - hardly ideal considering the names the manager has on the treatment table.

Stephen Carr, Celestine Babayaro, Craig Moore, Damien Duff are all out for weeks - with Shola Ameobi and Michael Owen likely to miss the full season.

Nevertheless Roeder, knowing a point would secure progress into the knock-out stages of the competition, still found it necessary to leave out Kieron Dyer after he played his first 90 minutes since April at Arsenal on Saturday.

Dyer's absence meant the pace he provided between midfield and attack was absent last night, with Sibierski the lone striker supported by Luque and James Milner on the wings.

Nevertheless Newcastle, without the speed of both Dyer and Obafemi Martins, should have gone in front just 29 seconds in through Luque.

The Spaniard, a former player of Celta's Galician rivals Deportivo La Coruna, found himself in acres of space inside the penalty box but fired wide from 12 yards after taking a touch from Milner's centre.

The visitors, however, have not won four of their six away matches in La Liga this season for being a soft touch and they illustrated exactly what they had to offer within nine minutes.

Fernando Vasquez's men had shown plenty nice touches but their was a touch of real class about their opening goal.

Emre was rounded too easily by Canobbio on the edge of the area and the Celta midfielder's superb left foot curler - after being fed the ball by Santos De Silva - beyond Shay Given was outstanding.

That was Celta's first real attack and they could have added to it seconds later when Anderson Nene was picked out in space down the left flank. His low drive failed to beat Given.

There could be no argument that they were Celta's only chances of the half and there was a nervousness about the Spanish team in defence, which handed the initiative to Newcastle.

And, even after making five changes from the draw at Arsenal, the Tynesiders were by far the most purposeful, but looked unlikely to score until Siberski's intervention.

There had been nice intricate passing moves but Newcastle had to wait until the 37th minute before seriously threatening goalkeeper Esteban Suarez's net again.

Sibierski headed Milner into space down the right before charging into the area. The Frenchman was then on the spot to leap ahead of Angel Ruano to meet the deep centre and head firmly down and beyond Suarez.

Had Titus Bramble not headed over from close range after meeting Emre's perfect free-kick shortly before half-time the scoreline would have been turned on its head sooner than it was.

Newcastle continued to enjoy possession but Celta were not prepared to settle for a point and tried on a number of occasions to counter-attack, only for the home defence to stand firm.

The introduction of Scott Parker, with England coach Steve McClaren watching in the stands, and striker Martins during the second half was designed to raise the Newcastle tempo.

And, albeit rarely, it did. Chances, though, were still infrequent and wayward drives from Charles N'Zogbia and Gustavo Pablos summed up a lack of opportunities in front of goal.

But, as the final whistle drew closer, local hero Taylor headed in the decisive winner from Luque's corner to maintain Newcastle's 100 per cent record.