Newcastle were composed and organised in defence, with Warren Barton outstanding. Only once did their discipline slip but they paid a heavy price, as a rash tackle by Laurent Charvet gave Roma a 51st-minute penalty which Francesco Totti converted.
"It was a good show," the Newcastle manager, Bobby Robson, said. "As good as anything we've done all season. We were tactically superior. The idea was to protect the second leg and that's what we've done. It should be a good game at St James' Park, it is not over by any means."
Robson said of the penalty, conceded as Marco Delvecchio was running away from goal: "Charvet did not need to tackle".
The Frenchman could perhaps be excused as he was playing his first match of the season having been called-up as a late replacement for Marcelino, who was described as being neither "mentally nor physically fit to play". With six injured defenders left behind on Tyneside Robson had little choice but to play Charvet. That left Gary Caldwell, a teenager yet to play for the first team, as the only defensive cover on the bench.
Robson, perhaps mindful of how Rui Costa destroyed Manchester United in Florence earlier in the week, detailed Aaron Hughes to track Totti, the Roma playmaker. "Aaron was marvellous," said Robson.
Indeed, so successful was this tactic that the frustrated Totti was booked for lashing out at Nolberto Solano as the Peruvian dogged him in the final minutes. It appeared to be a slap but he hit Solano in the face and Robson said: "He should have gone; the referee fudged it."
Alan Shearer, who received some rough treatment, added: "Roma should have had two players sent off but we got no help from the man in the middle." The French referee, Claude Colombo, booked both Shearer and his marker. It was Shearer's second yellow card of the competition but, since a suspension is now triggered by a third booking, he will be available for the second leg.
Though the wing-backs, Solano and Alessandro Pistone, were crucial elements in Newcastle's defensive strategy the visitors did not simply sit back and invite Roma to attack. When they could, they pushed up with Temuri Ketsbaia shooting at every opportunity. This almost brought a goal after 15 minutes when Francesco Antonioli spilled a swerving effort by the Georgian but the goalkeeper recovered to gather the ball as the Greek, Nikos Dabizas, came in.
Shearer, meanwhile, was having a bruising battle with Antonio Zago, Roma's uncompromising Brazilian defender, who has just been banned for three matches for spitting at Diego Simeone during Sunday's derby (an offence caught by television cameras). Eventually Zago was booked for two scything fouls on Shearer; the England captain being cautioned for trampling, probably accidentally, on his opponent.
Aldair was also booked for fouling Shearer but most of the action was at the other end. Yet so well did Newcastle defend that Steve Harper had not made a save before the penalty award. It was a harsh decision but understandable given the referee's view. More pertinently it was, in the circumstances, a reckless and unnecessary challenge.
Harper got a hand to Totti's kick but could not deny him. He did, though, save at Delvecchio's feet as Roma briefly threatened to overwhelm their visitors. During this period Totti hit the post from 20 yards while Charvet partially redeemed himself by twice blocking close-range shots from Delvecchio.
The assault gradually dimmed and Newcastle were able to venture forward again. Solano wasted one opportunity then Rob Lee, seizing on an error by Zago, floated a shot just wide. The fresh legs of Paul Robinson were introduced as Newcastle sought, in vain, the away goal they craved. In the event they suffered their first defeat in the competition this season, following three victories and a draw against CSKA Sofia and FC Zurich in the first two rounds. Yet it was clear, from the reaction of both players and fans at the final whistle, that they were happy enough with the result. All roads will now lead to Newcastle.
Roma (3-4-1-2): Antonioli; Rinaldi, Aldair, Zago; Cafu, Assuncao, Di Francesco, Candela; Totti; Montella, Delvecchio. Substitutes not used: Lupatelli (gk), Zanetti, Bartelt, Alenichev, Tommasi, Gurenko, Pereira.
Newcastle United (3-1-4-2): Harper; Charvet, Dabizas, Barton; Hughes; Solano, Lee, Speed, Pistone; Shearer, Ketsbaia (Robinson, 81). Substitutes not used: Karelse (gk), Maric, Glass, McClen, Serrant, Caldwell.
Referee: C Colombo (France).Reuse content