Shearer saves profligate Newcastle

Panionios 0 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Online

In attack Panionios fielded a player called Parodi but it was this match as a whole which was a caricature. For most of the 90 minutes it was poor. And when it wasn't poor it was appalling. Newcastle United arrived in Athens with the intention of beating the city's fourth biggest club and taking a firm hold of Group D in this season's Uefa Cup. At least that was the declaration of Graeme Souness. They did so and, as someone of their manager's experience will know, any away win is precious.

In attack Panionios fielded a player called Parodi but it was this match as a whole which was a caricature. For most of the 90 minutes it was poor. And when it wasn't poor it was appalling. Newcastle United arrived in Athens with the intention of beating the city's fourth biggest club and taking a firm hold of Group D in this season's Uefa Cup. At least that was the declaration of Graeme Souness. They did so and, as someone of their manager's experience will know, any away win is precious.

But rarely will they meet opponents as limited as the Greeks. Goodness knows how they beat Udinese to get this far. Newcastle really should not have had to rely on the vagaries of a penalty decision with just three minutes to go which led to Alan Shearer's 21st goal in Europe. Thankfully for Newcastle's fans, under the competition's new, elongated format, there will be no return leg for this fixture. Ticket sales would have been slow.

Newcastle had the pre-match fillip of an apology from Craig Bellamy for his reaction to being substituted at the weekend. Souness accepted Bellamy's contrition but there was a marker laid down. "I want him at the club but it has to be on my terms," he said.

In any case, Souness had little choice but to use Bellamy last night. With Patrick Kluivert and Kieron Dyer out and Shola Ameobi struggling, Bellamy partnered Shearer.

Unfortunately, the episode proved the distraction Newcastle feared. The opening half was a series of misplaced passes, missed opportunities and mistakes. Newcastle were dishevelled. But such was the low-grade nature of their opponents - Panionios are 13th in the Greek League and have lost three of their last four games - that they still should have been in front.

Olivier Bernard's shot from the corner of the area swerved over, Bellamy's strike was deflected, Shearer ballooned another effort while the Panionios goalkeeper Sorin Colceag - one of seven non-Greeks in the side - reacted smartly to push away a fierce shot by the recalled Laurent Robert after his free-kick rebounded back to him.

At the other end Shay Given also had to be alert. A cross by Sasa Zimonjic reached Mario Breska and his goalbound header was palmed away by the goalkeeper. Indeed, Newcastle appeared vulnerable to crosses and unable to find any kind of fluency in midfield. Lee Bowyer, in particular, was wayward and the frustrations spilled with a booking for Stephen Carr and some reckless challenges. Even the most ordinary of ball into the area induced a collective paralysis.

It all provided unexpected encouragement for Panionios, who reached the quarter-finals of the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup five years ago under Ronnie Whelan - with Mark Robins in the side - but have done little ever since, or before, to have an impact on this stage.

On half-time, Jermaine Jenas should have calmed Newcastle's frustrations after collecting Colceag's poor punch. He steadied himself but sliced his shot over.

Straight after the break, Robert's cross reached Shearer but his header was weak and easily fielded. Still Newcastle struggled, the ball easily, lazily lost and Bowyer was cautioned after reacting to his poor control with a foul. Seconds later the midfielder was fortunate to escape further censure - and a dismissal - when he followed through with a tackle to catch Alexandros Tziolis in the face.

Robert then fed Bellamy but his shot was smothered while Colceag tipped over Shearer's header. The chances mounted and Robert was again the provider. His free-kick found substitute Shola Ameobi but his header bounced into the turf and wide. But Ameobi's introduction did make a difference. With three minutes to go he drew a foul from Euripidis-Grigorios Makos inside the area. Shearer's penalty was unerring. Newcastle's players celebrated but had the grace to be subdued at the final whistle.

Panionios (3-5-2): Colceag; Vlcek, Giannopoulos, Makos; Dodd, Zimonjic (Goundoulakis 69), Domoraud, Tziolis, Spiropoulos; Parodi (Lagonikakis 75), Breska. Substitutes not used: Sotiriou (gk), Meszaros, Exouzidis, Mitrou, Mantzios.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien, Elliott, Bernard; Milner (Ambrose 67), Bowyer, Jenas, Robert; Bellamy, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Hughes, Bramble, Ameobi, Taylor, Brittain.

Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).

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