Asprilla finds right answer for Newcastle

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Newcastle United 2 Metz 0 Newcastle win 3-1 on agg

Kevin Keegan has always been a bit of a gambling man. The two-card trick he produced at St James' Park last night left Newcastle United with both a winning hand that flattered them and a place in the Uefa Cup quarter- finals.

After watching his side ride their luck for 68 minutes, and struggle to summon any creative power, the Newcastle manager reached for the No 11 card. Before sending Steve Watson on to the pitch, however, he changed his mind and produced the No 14 instead.

Thus David Ginola departed and Faustino Asprilla remained on the field. It was just as well. Without the late inspiration their Colombian provided, Newcastle would have needed their first goalless draw in 72 matches, and a fortunate one at that, to not so much knock out as scrape past an infinitely more inventive Metz team - by virtue of goal difference.

As it was, Asprilla summoned the predatory powers he honed on European nights with Parma, scoring twice in as many minutes before departing on a stretcher two minutes from time, suffering from a pulled hamstring that will keep him out - in Keegan's estimation - "for four to six weeks".

Unfortunately, having been booked for planting his shirt on the left- wing corner flag while celebrating his first goal, the South American is certain to miss the first leg of Newcastle's quarter-final tie in March.

Though Les Ferdinand's return will soften that blow, Asprilla showed again last night - as he did in the last round against Ferencvaros - the value of his vast European experience. It spared Newcastle's blushes, if not quite their Uefa Cup ambitions.

They led a charmed life as Metz carved open their defence with their swift and frequent counter-attacks. It was, indeed, a victory in itself that Newcastle managed to reach half-time on level terms.

Metz's game plan was simple from the start. At every opportunity they sought to exploit the absence of full-backs from the home line-up and the pace and close-control of Robert Pires posed particular problems as the game progressed.

He provided the right-wing cross from which Didier Lang ought to have headed the opening goal just after the half-hour and then unleashed a thundering drive Pavel Srnicek, the Newcastle goalkeeper, did well to keep out. But the young French international was guilty of squandering his side's best chance, firing into the side-netting with the goal at his mercy four minutes into the second half.

Newcastle were indebted to Srnicek for the vital save he made with 13 minutes left. It denied Amara Traore and left the platform clear for Asprilla's flair to secure a flattering passage through to the last eight for Newcastle.

His first goal, after 81 minutes, was a stooping header which connected with Darren Peacock's low cross into the goalmouth. His second, a minute later, was a virtuoso effort.

Collecting the ball from David Batty from 35-yards out from goal, Asprilla raced forward, slipped past his marker and deftly beat Andre Biancarelli, the Metz goalkeeper, with the outside of his foot.

"We certainly made hard work of it," Keegan said. "We had a job to string three or four passes together.

"I very nearly took off Tino [Asprilla] because he looked tired. But I saw David took a knock and swapped the numbers. I'm glad that I did.

"It's my fault he was booked. The referee said beforehand that anyone who took their shirt off would get a yellow card but I forgot to tell the lads in the dressing-room."

At least Keegan made the right call with the card trick that mattered most.

Newcastle United (3-5-2): Srnicek; Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Beardsley, Ginola (Watson, 68) ; Asprilla, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Clark, Kitson, Beresford, Hislop (gk).

Metz (4-1-3-1-1): Biancarelli; Song, Strasser, Kastendeuch, Terrier; Serredszum; Arpinon, Blanchard, Lang; Pires; Traore. Substitutes not used: Isaias, Oyawole, Pujade, Jager, Jubert (gk).

Referee: S Muhmenthaller (Switzerland).