They were swept away in the Nou Camp last night by a Barcelona team which was understrength and already out of the running but still comfortably good enough to win. That Barcelona only won by one goal was due to dogged defending and poor forward play - the latter an indication of their present lack of confidence.
The game was settled by the one move of genuine quality, a goal created by Josep Guardiola and scored by Giovanni after 17 minutes. Though Jon Dahl Tomasson later hit the bar with a deflected shot, that was effectively that.
One felt for Newcastle. This is an occasion they have aspired to ever since Sir John Hall and Kevin Keegan lifted them out of the depths of the old Second Division but it was never like this in their dreams. They would have imagined the black-and-whites shirts striding forward defiantly as 100,000 fans roared against them.
There was defiance, but few supporters and fewer attacks. Already shorn of forwards, Newcastle were scratching around for defenders by the end with both centre-halves departing prematurely. Aaron Hughes, 18 this month, was forced to make a daunting debut and, in the circumstances, acquitted himself creditably.
So did his team-mates, they made mistakes, losing possession too easily and were a negligible attacking force, but they never lacked for effort. It was not enough to bridge the gap in class but it earned them respectability.
"They worked very hard," said Kenny Dalglish, "and deserve an awful lot of credit for getting this far. Now we'll go away and see what we've learned. We didn't lack ambition, we just don't have any strikers. We wanted to win and it's an insult to suggest otherwise. We gave the ball away a lot which was disappointing and, though we came close a couple of times, were never a real threat."
As anticipated the wooden-spoon status of the match was reflected in the attendance. The cavernous Nou Camp was barely a quarter full and appeared even emptier as heavy rain had driven most of the home support to the back of the stands and under the protection of the tier above.
The teams were also under-srength, with Newcastle so short of numbers they could not even field the permitted seven substitutes - none of Rob Lee, Shay Given, Warren Barton or Faustino Asprilla were fit enough. Des Hamilton thus made a rare start, his first in Europe, alongside John Barnes in midfield. Temur Ketsbaia led the line with Tomasson tucked in behind. Barcelona, who are reportedly trying to sign Winston Bogarde from Milan for pounds 3.2m, were able to play Sonny Anderson and Josep Guardiola of their recent casualties.
The likely victim of Bogarde's possible arrival, Albert Ferrer, had little chance to shine as Barcelona spent most of the match in attack. Beresford and Barnes had early pot-shots but they were rare excursions as Dragan Ciric and Rivaldo created havoc on the flanks. Several chances had already been missed when, after 17 minutes, Giovanni got behind Darren Peacock, John Beresford played him onside, and Guardiola released him with a sublime pass. Giovanni provided a finish to match, chipping the 6ft 4in Shaka Hislop.
It got worse as Peacock twisted his ankle in a challenge by Giovanni, forcing Stuart Pearce to come on for his first game in months. However, Newcastle unexpectedly almost drew level 10 minutes from the break. Beresford broke down the left, and the ball reached Tomasson, whose shot took a deflection and looped on to the bar. However, Barcelona quickly reasserted command and Rivaldo, Ciric and Anderson could all have increased the lead before half-time.
Newcastle re-emerged without Philippe Albert, who had an upset stomach. Hughes joined Watson and Pearce in the centre of a reshaped five-man defence. The switch meant Rivaldo and Ciric were marked more closely marked, though the Brazilian soon left Hughes and Alessandro Pistone on their backsides as he created a chance for Ciric, which Hislop saved well, and another for Juan Antonio Pizzi.
Newcastle's effort deserved some reward but an equaliser would have been unjust. One hopes they will get the chance to play in this magnificent setting again, but with a full team.
Barcelona (2-4-3-1): Hesp; Abelardo, Fernando Couto; Ferrer, Guardiola (Amor, 63), Celades, Reiziger; Ciric, Giovanni (Nadal, 80), Rivaldo; Anderson (Pizzi, 55). Substitutes not used: Figo, Xavi, Mario, Busquets (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Hislop; Pistone, Peacock (Pearce, 30), Albert (Hughes, h-t), Beresford; Watson, Batty, Hamilton, Barnes; Tomasson; Ketsbaia. Substitutes not used: Crawford, Pinas, Elliot, Srnicek (gk).
Referee: M Batta (France).