Football: Dabizas header hands Gullit a Euro lifeline

Newcastle United 2 Partizan Belgrade 1
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The Independent Online
TWICE A European Cup winner with Milan in his playing days, Ruud Gullit has yet to taste defeat in continental club competition as a manager.

The 100 per cent record he established with Chelsea last season, en route to the quarter-finals of the Cup-Winners' Cup and the sack, was maintained on Tyneside last night as Newcastle's new manager watched his team overcome a Partizan Belgrade side lacking experience and clout. They did so, however, in a manner that hardly hallmarked Ruud's boys as serious contenders for the trophy which has been on display at Stamford Bridge since May.

Leading from the 11th minute with an Alan Shearer goal, Newcastle required the face-saving grace of Nikos Dabizas's 71st minute header to avoid travelling to Belgrade on level terms.

Partizan's followers happen to be known as the Gravediggers and the 60 who made the trip to St James' Park were rewarded with the sight of a lifeless Newcastle performance in the first leg of this Cup-Winners' Cup first-round tie.

Gullit's team were animated enough at the start but, after Shearer made the early breakthrough, steering a sidefooted shot over Nikola Damjanac from close range, they struggled to forge clear chances, despite enjoying a monopoly of possession. It took them until the hour mark to seriously trouble Damjanac again, Gary Speed forcing a point-blank save from the Partizan goalkeeper.

It was on the same date last year that Newcastle accomplished their famous beating of Barcelona, thanks to three goals by the Colombian Faustino Asprilla, and the South American introduced in the second-half last night, the Peruvian Nolberto Solano, showed fleeting signs of sparking the Tynesiders to attacking life.

In the 68th minute, though, Laurent Charvet challenged Menad Bjekovic on the left edge of the Newcastle area and, when the Yugoslav striker crashed to the ground, the Dutch referee Dick Jol pointed to the penalty spot.

Vuc Rasovic stepped forward to strike the equalising goal but Newcastle regained the lead three minutes later. Stephen Glass hoisted a left-wing free-kick and Dabizas rose to plant a looping header over Damjanac.

The locals in the less than full crowd reserved their cheers for the Partizan players at the final whistle - not because the young Serbs, with an average age of 21 and without an international in their ranks, produced a stirring performance. Far from it. The Toon Army merely recognised the dogged manner in which Partizan stuck to their seemingly hopeless task, and emerged with the reward of an away goal.

"The big disappointment was that we allowed them to score," Gullit said. "They caused us no problems. There was just one moment of sloppiness. "I am not that vain to say that we are still favourites but they did not create any chances of their own so we have to be confident."

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Dabizas, Pearce; Andersson (Solano, h-t), Lee, Speed, Glass; Ketsbaia, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Gillespie, Barton, Guivarc'h, Albert, Perez (gk).

Partizan Belgrade (4-4-2): Damjanac; Savic, Rasovic, Stojanoski, Krstajic; Trobok, Ivic (Pazin, 73), S Ilic, Tomic; Bjekovic (Stojisavljevic, 87), Obradovic. Substitutes not used: Duljaj, Gerasimovski, Tesovic, Svetlicic, R Ilic.

Referee: D Jol (Netherlands).