The Newcastle manager, Glenn Roeder, hailed Titus Bramble for helping the Magpies avoid embarrassment in the Uefa Cup here with a second-half winner against FK Ventspils in Riga last night.
Bramble recovered from a ragged start and Roeder felt it fitting he should have scored the only goal having earned the club their European excursion in the first place. Roeder said: "Titus has chipped in with a few goals over the last half-dozen games and none more important than the one against Chelsea that got us into the competition. He has now scored another vital goal that without doubt gives us a big advantage in the return leg."
Bramble made up for a couple of early defensive slip-ups by leaping decisively to meet Emre's corner with a powerful header in the 70th minute. That goal will surely be enough to see the Magpies past the Latvian league leaders in the second leg of this second qualifying round tie back at St James' Park on 24 August.
Despite the debut of the £5m former Chelsea man Damien Duff and a recall for Nicky Butt, Roeder's men looked rusty, but that was hardly surprising since the Premiership season has not yet started.
Newcastle's best chance in the first half fell in the 27th minute when Shola Amoebi met Nolberto Solano's precise through ball, but he poked at his shot from little more than eight yards out and it was blocked by a forest of defenders' legs.
The Magpies began the second half badly as they struggled to clear a corner and Kaspars Gorkss missed the target with a long-range drive. Andreys Butriks flashed a header wide from Sergei Zangareev's right-wing cross before Duff came close at the other end with a powerful effort which sailed just wide.
Duff was presenting more of a threat to the tiring Latvian legs down the left and managed to find space behind the Latvians' defence but Amoebi was less successful in tackling the tough Ventspils' central defensive pairing.
Newcastle started to find their form up front and it was Bramble who made the difference to allow the Magpies to dream of European glory and improved performances ahead.
FK Ventspils: Vanins; Ndjoumek-Ndeki, Gorkss, Kacanovs, Bicka, Zangareeb, Dubensky, Vukovic, Kolefnicenko, Butriks, Slesarchuk. Substitutes: Davidovs, Sokolskis, Soleicuks, Pokarynin, Stukalinas, Zizilevs, Kosmacovs.
Newcastle United: Given; Carr, Moore, Bramble, Babayaro, Solano, Emre, Duff, Parker, Butt, Ameobi. Substitutes: Harper (gk), Luque, N'Zogbia, Milner, Ramage, Taylor, O'Brien.
Referee: S Lannoy (France).
* In last night's other Uefa Cup first leg ties, the Welsh Premier League side Llanelli lost 1-0 to Odense in Denmark courtesy of a goal by Bechara Oliveira. The Irish club Drogheda failed to Start in Norway, losing 1-0 to a Fredrik Stromstad goal. But Ireland's Derry City impressively overcame Gretna 5-1 at Fir Park.