Kenny Dalglish required something more than the novel assistance of John Beresford's first goals for two and a half years as he savoured his first European victory as a manager last night.
Beresford, who last found the net in February 1995, in an FA Cup fifth- round tie against Manchester City, struck midway through the first half and again 15 minutes from time to give Newcastle United a one-goal advantage to protect in the away leg of their Champions' League qualifying tie in Zagreb. But his second effort, after Igor Cvitanovic equalised for the Croatian champions, owed much to the referee, Vaclav Krondl.
The Czech official seemed to be the only man in St James' Park who did not see Faustino Asprilla clearly impeding Drazen Ladic, Zagreb's goalkeeper, as the Colombian clumsily challenged for a Stuart Pearce cross. Beresford bundled the ball into the Gallowgate End net and Ladic and his colleagues watched in amazement as the referee signalled for a goal rather than a foul.
Their vigorous protests came to nothing, though, other than the yellow card the goalkeeper earned for his part. Asked whether he thought it was a generous goal, Dalglish replied "That's a very nice phrase."
It was a very nice roll of the dice for Newcastle, who could hardly have complained about making the trip to the Balkans on level terms. As Dalglish observed: " It's going to be a very difficult task over there, even with a goal advantage."
Such was the influence of Robert Prosinecki, the Zagreb playmaker, Newcastle were unable to dictate the play for sustained periods. Even when Prosinecki, who sports a lion tattoo on his right leg, dropped deep to avoid Robert Lee's attentions, the Barcelona old boy continued to be the focal point.
Indeed, it was from such a withdrawn position that he launched the sweeping move which ended with Cvitanovic curling a low shot around Shay Given seven minutes into the second half.
For Dalglish it was an evening of special significance. Not since the night of the Heysel Stadium tragedy, in May 1985, had the Newcastle manager been directly involved in a European Cup match. Not that Dalglish considered the tie to be strictly within the continent's premier club competition. "We're not there yet," he pointed out when asked how it felt to be involved in the Champions' Cup. "This tie just gives us the opportunity to get there."
Indeed, victory over two legs is required for the Premiership's runners- up of last season to open the back door to the Champions' League - and the fact that Zagreb failed to score in only one match last season warned Newcastle that their task would be far from easy and thus it proved last night.
Zagreb, roared on by 536 "Bad Blue Boys", as their followers like to be known, blunted Newcastle's initial thrusts and spread frustration through the home ranks with their slow- motion possession play. The Magpies were obliged to take to their wings and they did so to increasingly good effect.
Steve Watson clocked up considerable overlapping yardage on the right, and twice delivered troublesome crosses before the one which prompted Newcastle's opener in the 21st minute. Asprilla controlled it on the edge of the area and fed the ball through to Lee, who angled a pass for Beresford to side-foot home.
St James' erupted - all save the blue corner, at any rate. But it was the Croats who cheered for most of the second half - until Asprilla clattered into Ladic and Beresford was allowed to claim his fortuitous second.
Newcastle United (5-3-2): Given; Watson, Pistone, Albert (Howey, 67), Pearce, Beresford; Lee, Batty, Ketsbaia; Tomasson (Gillespie, 56), Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Crawford, Pinas, Hughes, Srnicek (gk).
Croatia Zagreb (3-3-2-2): Ladic; Mladinic, Juric, Simic; Saric (Tomas, 85), Jurcic, Krznar; Prosinecki, Maric (Mujcin, 89); Viduka, I Cvitanovic. Substitutes not used: Stefuli, Brlenic, M Cvitanovic, Petrovic, Ibrahimovic (gk),
Referee: V Krondl (Czech Rep).
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