Beardsley provides precious strike

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Football

Metz 1 Newcastle United 1

Not since 1977 has a French team overcome English opposition in Europe. The Corsicans of Bastia delivered the knock-out blow on that occasion and Newcastle United were on the suffering end of two piledrivers that the Dutchman Johnny Rep struck at St James' Park to settle a Uefa Cup second-round tie.

The first-half penalty Peter Beardsley scored here last night provided the latterday Newcastle team he captains with an ideal platform to maintain the tradition of French suffering at England's expense in European competition.

Metz dominated the opening leg of the third-round Uefa Cup tie, but were unable to build a lead for the return match. They only managed one goal, midway through the second half, which came courtesy of a rare error on the night by Pavel Srnicek, whose move to Newcastle six years ago was secured by the French passport to which his mother's nationality entitled him.

It always seemed likely to be a test of Newcastle's defensive mettle in this steel town. Having gifted Ferencvaros three goals on their previous Continental excursion, and being less than watertight in Halmstad in the first round, Kevin Keegan's priority was to guard against such laxity.

"We don't want to leave ourselves with an Everest to climb," was the Newcastle manager's pre-match message, and he took the precaution of reverting to a four-man formation at the back. It seemed a sensible measure, given the risks inherent in Newcastle's all-out attacking game, exposed by the one attack West Ham mustered before injury time last Saturday.

Having seen the defensive wings of his Magpies clipped in that Premiership match, Keegan recalled two conventional full-backs - John Beresford on the left, instead of Robbie Elliott, who was on bench after having eight stitches inserted in an eye wound on Saturday, and Warren Barton on the right, nominally filling the place created by the injured Les Ferdinand.

Newcastle, nevertheless, endured a nervous start. Srnicek hacked an attempted clearance directly to the feet of Robert Pires with just two minutes gone. Fortunately for Newcastle, the new darling of French football passed to his attacking colleague, Amara Traore, who was standing in a blatantly offside position.

The rangy Traore, a Senagalese international, proved a handful for the Newcastle defence. Twice in the opening quarter, the African was denied a clear shot on goal only by the alertness of Philippe Albert.

Such was the menace posed by Traore, however, he again tested Srnicek. A powerful downward header, following a right-wing cross by the Brazilian Isaias, forced a fine diving save from the Newcastle goalkeeper.

In the absence of Ferdinand and Alan Shearer, on whose fitness Keegan chose not to gamble, Faustino Asprilla was an isolated figure up front for Newcastle. It was not until the half-hour mark that the Colombian gained clean possession.

He used it to telling effect, however, trapping a long ball from Albert and slipping past his marker before his legs were grabbed by Lionel Letizi, the Metz goalkeeper, as he rounded him. Beardsley dispatched the subsequent penalty into the bottom-left corner of the net to claim his fourth goal in three matches.

Blood was spilled before Newcastle reached half-time with their lead intact. David Batty suffered a facial injury in a spat with Isaias, who was shown the yellow card for his part in the altercation.

There were also two more close shaves for Keegan's side before the break, Srnicek stopping an angled drive by Didier Lang and Pires cutting in from the left flank to fire a shot narrowly wide of the target.

Traore went closer 12 seconds into the second half. Played through on the right side of the Newcastle area by Isaias, his shot beat Srnicek but sped inches wide of the left post.

The next Metz threat was not slow in arriving. Frederic Arpinon jinked past Barton on the left and squared the ball to Pires, who rued the haste with which he took his shot as it whizzed - again - fractionally wide of the Newcastle goal.

Eleven minutes later the tie was squared. Lang delivered a cross from deep on the left and, after Srnicek failed to connect with an attempted punch, Traore flicked the ball with the back of his head into the Newcastle net.

Keegan declared himself content with the result and his side's display. "It might not have been a typical Newcastle performance," he said, "but don't forget, we had two England centre-forwards injured. Sometimes you've got to get into the trenches and dig out a performance and we certainly did that."

Metz (1-3-1-3-2): Letizi; Kastendeuch; Song, Terrier, Lang; Serredszum; Blanchard, Isaias, Arpinon; Traore, Pires. Substitutes not used: Adam, Strasser, Neumann, Oyawole, Biancarelli (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Srnicek; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Beresford (Elliott, 57); Gillespie, Batty, Lee, Ginola; Beardsley; Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Watson, Clark, Kitson, Hislop (gk).

Referee: M Benko (Austria).

Results, page 31, More reports, page 30

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