Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin, the little club from the Sea of Galilee, were jeered off after an evil-tempered tie that marked Graeme Souness's debut as Newcastle manager.They don't do miracles in the Middle East these days. Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin, the little club from the Sea of Galilee, which was once a perfect surface for walking on water, found themselves jeered off after an evil-tempered night that marked Graeme Souness's inauspicious debut as Newcastle manager.
Sakhnin's mixture of Jews, Muslims and Christians was supposed to demonstrate that Israeli sport can be a platform for reconciliation, although precious little love was shown to their opponents in the first leg of last night's Uefa Cup tie. Newcastle were relentlessly fouled, triggering a spectacular brawl that saw Nicky Butt sent off two minutes after coming on as a substitute. Butt appeared to punch the Sakhnin captain, Abas Suan, who was also dismissed, in the throat and seemed to want to renew the fight as they stalked off.
For Souness, sent off on his debut as Rangers player-manager, it was all rather fitting. Sir Bobby Robson's first game at St James' Park was marked by an 8-0 rout of Sheffield Wednesday that saw Alan Shearer's rebirth. Souness's will be remembered for a brawl.
"Nicky Butt was not good," he reflected. "At his age and with his experience, it is not the cleverest thing he has ever done. They had a game plan to frustrate us and we had to rise above that." For most of a first half that Patrick Kluivert dominated, it appeared Newcastle would until they were dragged down, finishing with injuries to Kieron Dyer and Aaron Hughes.
For Sakhnin to be here at all was remarkable. The town's entire population would have comfortably fitted into St James' Park twice over and there were times when you thought Newcastle might have been given a better game by any Northern League club from Bedlington Terriers to Billingham Synthonia. The sight of Sakhnin's goalkeeper, Energy Murambadoro, falling over and injuring himself while throwing the ball out seemed to sum things up.
A clinical, unromantic side think Manchester United at their most ruthlessly unlovely would have scored half-a-dozen before the interval. Instead, Newcastle, who were often very loose in front of goal, were content with just a couple by Kluivert, although the quality of the opposition made his display difficult to assess.
Having found the net in Robson's final match, the Dutchman did so in Souness's first as early as the third minute. After several feeble attempts to make a routine clearance, the ball ran straight to Kluivert's expensive boots which stabbed it home.
The second, four minutes from the break, was a thunderously-graceful header from Laurent Robert's corner that pinballed into the goal below the Gallowgate via crossbar and post. But for the skill of Murambadoro, Kluivert might have scored five before 45 minutes were up, a possibility that did not seem to be lost on Shearer.
Whenever Geoffrey Boycott was left out by either England or Yorkshire, he would complain about someone else being gifted the opportunity to score "my runs". Shearer had been put on the bench last night, usually a fatal move for a Newcastle manager, and judging from his impassive features, he might have felt Kluivert was scoring his goals.
But for some heroics from Murambadoro and some awful misses there should have been more. Jermaine Jenas somehow struck the bar from no more than a yard, although he was judged to have fouled, while Dyer, who could use a goal against anyone, anywhere, contrived to slice wide a gaping chance. Souness groaned and hid his head against the side of the dug-out; a familiar position for a Newcastle manager when dealing with the vagaries of their wayward prince.
Newcastle United: (4-4-2) Given; Carr, O'Brien, Elliott, Hughes (Bernard, 15); Dyer (Butt, 57), Jenas, Bowyer, Robert; Ameobi (Milner, 59), Kluivert. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Shearer, Bellamy, Ambrose.
Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin: (4-5-1) Murambadoro; Kassom, Danan, Rabah, Etchi; Eliyahu, Suan, Masudi, Hamud (Rodrigues, 54), Ghnaim (Salameh, 78); Olumide. Substitutes not used: Aliaz (gk), Khalaila, Abu Salah, Edri, Shalaata.
Referee: A Costa (Portugal).