Bellamy double strike kick-starts Newcastle's season

Newcastle United 5 NAC Breda 0
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The Independent Football

Craig Bellamy has scored more important goals for Newcastle - for instance the last-minute winner at Feyenoord that took Sir Bobby Robson's team through to the second phase of the Champions' League last season. However, the pair the flying Welshman bagged against Dutch opposition at St James' Park last night could prove almost as vital to Newcastle United.

Whether Bellamy's double manage to revive the Magpies' flagging season remains to be seen; they visit Highbury in the Premiership tomorrow night second from bottom of the table. Last night, though, they succeeded in launching Newcastle into the second-phase of their 2003-04 European campaign with a liberal measure of their old attacking swagger.

The gloom that descended on Tyneside with the penalty shoot-out failure against Partizan Belgrade in the Champions' League qualifier a month ago palpably lifted as Bellamy's first-half goals - followed by three in the second-half, courtesy of Titus Bramble, Alan Shearer and Darren Ambrose - set Sir Bobby's boys off on the consolation path of the Uefa Cup with a confidence-restoring flourish.

Bramble's goal was his first in 29 matches for Newcastle; Ambrose's was his first in two substitute appearances. Bellamy's 31st-minute opener was his first in 11 games for the club - like the middle-finger salute he gave in the direction of the press box, an answer to critics of his underwhelming strike-rate.

Much the same could be said of Newcastle's collective play. As a beaming Robson said: "We were back to something like our best, the way we played many times last season. I always thought we had the ability to do that, with time and patience."

It was certainly a transformation from the sterile fare his side have been producing in the Premiership this season, most recently against Bolton last Saturday. Having seen Newcastle stifled by a five-man midfield in that goalless encounter, Ton Lokhoff, Breda's coach, attempted to frustrate them with similar tactics. It was his team's misfortune to meet a Newcastle team playing with an infinitely greater sense of urgency and purpose.

Breda were on the back foot from the off and had their Hungarian goalkeeper, Babor Babos, to thank for keeping out Newcastle until Bellamy's breakthrough. Shearer nodded on a lofted ball from Andy O'Brien and Bellamy chipped a right-foot shot over Babos.

It was a fine goal, but the second for Newcastle and for Bellamy, six minutes later, was even better. Kieron Dyer was the architect, playing a wall-pass with Shearer deep on the right before scything through the opposition ranks with a surging diagonal run and slipping the ball wide to Laurent Robert, who crossed low from the left for Bellamy to beat Babos with a side-footed finish.

It took two brilliant saves by Shay Given to stop Johan Elmander and Tamas Peto from hauling Breda level by half-time as the Newcastle defence went temporarily absent.

After the break, though, it was all black-and-white. Just before the hour mark, Bramble met a Robert corner from the left with a thundering header. Then, with 70 minutes on the clock, Robert rolled a free-kick to Shearer and the Newcastle captain beat Babos with a drive from 20 yards. And finally, with a minute remaining, Robert capped an outstanding individual performance, crossing again from the left for Ambrose to head home.

It was almost too good to true and there was indeed a sting in the tail. "Jonathan Woodgate is going into hospital on Saturday for a double operation," Robson said, explaining the absence of his £9m central defender. "We can forget about him for several weeks, unfortunately."

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Hughes, O'Brien, Bramble, Bernard (Viana, 84); Dyer (Ambrose, 79), Jenas, Speed, Robert; Bellamy (Ameobi, 84), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Caig (gk), Griffin, LuaLua, Caldwell.

NAC Breda (4-5-1): Babos; Feher, Schenning, Penders, Gudelj; Diba (Bousaboun, 73), Peto, Slot (Koning, 61), Engelaar, Seedorf; Elmander. Substitutes not used: Coutinho (gk), Collen, Vos, Barakat, Stam.

Referee: N Ivanov (Russia).