Dyer finds a stage to showcase his skills

With its glamour, emphasis on technique and skill, plus its enormous global exposure, the Champions' League is a stage made for a talent like Kieron Dyer's, who was not allowed to shine in the World Cup.

A horribly mistimed tackle by Southampton's Tahar El Khalej in Newcastle's final game of the season meant the man whom Graeme Souness rates the most gifted player in the country was lucky to make the plane to Japan. It was no surprise that his displays on arrival were of limited value.

"I could not do myself justice," he said after scoring the winner against Zeljeznicar in Wednesday night's Champions' League qualifier. "My leg was fine but my overall contribution was not good. That's why the Champions' League means so much more to me now.

"We are playing against the best in the world and, if I succeed, playing for England will follow."

The goal which gave Newcastle a vital away victory in Sarajevo was his most valuable for the club, whose decision to pay Ipswich £6m for Dyer in the summer of 1999 now looks inspired business by Ruud Gullit. Yet he has not scored as many as he would have liked in the three years that followed and this is an area of his game the 23-year-old is looking to improve.

"I have had plenty of one-on-ones but kept missing or shooting at the keeper," Dyer said yesterday. "That's why I have set myself a target of 10 goals this season and I feel confident I can do it – especially after last night's performance."

Amar Osim, Zeljeznicar's manager, thought Dyer was more dangerous than Alan Shearer in what he described as the biggest game Bosnia has staged since the war ended in 1995. "I did not think Shearer would be the biggest problem; he is strong and dangerous but he is a classical forward. It is more difficult to keep out [Nolberto] Solano, [Lomano] LuaLua or Dyer."

Sir Bobby Robson, ironically enough, would like the England midfielder to be slightly less aggressive. "I have actually been trying to curtail Kieron's runs because sometimes he gets forward and can't get back," the Newcastle manager said. "But it's difficult for me to stop him going forward when he gets a goal like that out of the midfield pack, breaking from nowhere."

When the second leg hoves into view a week on Wednesday, Robson will point out the pitfalls of complacency. After all, this time last year his side conceded four goals at home to Troyes in the final of the Intertoto Cup. Nevertheless, Newcastle's position is one of enormous strength, as Osim acknowledged.

"Our chances before the first leg were one per cent and they are still one per cent," he said after a display Robson called "courageous". "We were lucky to have come this far and you cannot hope to be lucky all the time.

"It is a far more important game for Newcastle because they plan to go through to the Champions' League and we did not," Osim added. "We did not even plan to get to the second qualifying round and we find ourselves in the third round, having made a lot of money. The Champions' League would be too big for us."

It may ultimately prove too big for an exciting but very young Newcastle side, yet Dyer should have at least given the Magpies a chance to find out.

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