Newcastle Utd 1 Lillestrom 1: Newcastle rely on Luque strike

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The Independent Football

His rather garish fluorescent red boots were the most remarkable aspect of his performance for the best part of an hour, before Albert Luque took a first small, significant, step towards redemption. The abject failure to prove himself in almost a year on Tyneside has become something of a running joke with supporters, notwithstanding the vastly inflated £9 million it cost to secure the services of the Spaniard.

Impressive though his 50th-minute equaliser was, it is going to take several more like it to convince a dubious Tyneside public that, after a so far fruitless summer search for fresh attacking talent, this is the man to help fill the void left by Alan Shearer and the stricken Michael Owen. However, after one of the most low-key build-ups to a season in the past 15 years, where an air almost of resignation has hung over the North-east, Newcastle were happy to glean any crumbs of comfort, albeit from an unexpected source.

Less than three weeks into their pre-season, the hosts were, until a post-interval rally, patently second best to opponents whose superior fitness, well honed midway through their domestic campaign, was clear. After dallying to allow the defender Khaled Mouelhi to block Newcastle's clearest first-half opening, Luque atoned with a far less tardy piece of finishing five minutes after the restart to give his side a fighting chance of progressing into the Uefa Cup qualifying stages in Saturday's return leg.

Claiming possession 30 yards out, the former Deportivo La Coruña player easily navigated a half-hearted Pal Steffen Andresen challenge before advancing to thread a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

"He took it well, and it won't do his confidence any harm at all," enthused his manager Glenn Roeder. It proved to be the forward's last notable contribution, cramp curtailing his involvement soon afterwards, though Roeder insisted that the Spanish international will be fit for the return.

Newcastle, under new captain Scott Parker, could have been four goals in arrears before they scored, Michael Mifsud, the Maltese forward, denied a hat-trick inside the opening 20 minutes by two Shay Given saves in addition to a goalline clearance from Celestine Babayaro, as Lillestrom dominated. This despite their manager Uwe Rösler, the former Manchester City forward, resting three players for an important midweek League game, before their high-tempo approach took its toll on stamina after the hour.

Their lead arrived in the 21st minute, the midfielder Robert Koren reflecting Lillestrom's dominance as he scored from 18 yards with the aid of a deflection off Emre. "We've made life difficult with that away goal, but we'll be a lot sharper next week," said Roeder. He added: " I've just spoken to Uwe. He says we're still the favourites for the second leg. Nice try, Uwe."