For a region so passionate about their football there is a lot of self- doubt in Newcastle. It was not just Kevin Keegan who was scarred by the 1995-96 championship collapse, the players and fans were, too. That was evident during Barcelona's spirited attempt to claw back the 3-0 deficit on Wednesday night. The home players hacked the ball anywhere, inviting further pressure upon themselves, while the fans alternately chewed nails and whistled for time.
If Barcelona had levelled the tie, and Christophe Dugarry had a good chance to do so, the damage would have gone beyond the loss of two Champions' League points. Newcastle would have plunged into further introspection and the doubts would have intensified. Instead, they will remember the scintillating opening hour, not the nervous last 30 minutes.
The game will always be remembered for Faustino Asprilla's hat-trick, but another player will also take strength from Wednesday night. Keith Gillespie, the "makeweight" in the Andy Cole transfer, has had a difficult 18 months. Tabloid revelations about his private life have been mirrored by inconsistency on the pitch. This last month his undoubted ability has re-emerged. He has been outstanding against two international benchmarks, Germany's Christian Ziege, when playing for Northern Ireland, and on Wednesday night Barcelona's Sergi. In both cases, those displays have been hailed as his best for each team.
"Playing well against Germany did lift my confidence," he said yesterday. "I was simply pleased to be in against Barcelona, you never know if you are going to be playing or not. I have been inconsistent; two years ago, when I was on one wing and David Ginola on the other, was probably my best period.
"The onus was on me to provide the service to the front two and it was a lift to play well. For many of us it was the most important game of our careers: it is not every day you play Barcelona in the Champions' League.
"There was a great atmosphere. We all worked hard. The way we closed them down was fantastic, we never gave them time to settle. At 3-0, they seemed dead and buried, you have to give them credit for coming back."
The Ulsterman has long been noted for his pace. What also impressed on Wednesday was his delivery, the crosses Asprilla scored from were just two of half-a-dozen pin-point balls.
Newcastle now travel to Ukraine to play Dynamo Kiev, the group leaders after their impressive 3-1 win away to PSV Eindhoven, on 1 October. Having played there recently with Northern Ireland, Gillespie may be the only Newcastle player to have been there. "It's going to be a difficult place to go," he said.Reuse content