TALK about a passion killer. A Norwegian linesman doused the flames on Tyneside last night.
Alan Pardew called on Newcastle United fans to take their other halves to St James’s Park for a Valentine’s Day treat with a difference.
More than a few couples went to the Europa League Round of 32 game. Who said romance was dead on Tyneside?
There was Geordie passion in the stands, and a committed and purposeful performance against Metalist Kharkiv from United on the pitch. But it lacked a goal.
Papiss Demba Cisse twice had the ball in the net – only for the assistant referee to rule the efforts out for offside.
The decisions left Pardew “incensed” after the game.
And Newcastle face an unenviable task in the return leg in the Ukraine in six days time after this goalless draw.
Pardew handed Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa his full debut at right-back, and also brought Cheik Tiote and Gabriel Obertan into his side.
And the starting XI was unrecognisable from that which was well beaten at Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas in early December in the last of the club’s group-stage games.
And it was Obertan who was to have United’s first sight of goal in the 17th minute, the winger taking a low pass from Moussa Sissoko on the left before cutting inside and shooting narrowly wide with his favoured right foot.
At the other end, Tim Krul was forced into an improvised save as the game, which had started slowly, finally sparked into a life.
The half’s biggest talking point came in the 23rd minute.
Cisse had the ball in the net, but the goal was wrongly ruled out for an offside decision against Sissoko in the build up.
And that fateful decision, ultimately, could prove the club’s undoing in the Europa League.
Krul stopped a Cleiton Xavier header, and Cisse forced a fine save from an advancing Olexandr Goryainov after running on to a clever through ball from Yohan Cabaye.
There was also a comical over-reaction from Jonathan Cristiano to a challenge from Cabaye. He rolled over three times before the Norwegian official, Tom Hagen, eventually booked the Newcastle midfielder.
After the break, United – roared on by the fans in the Strawberry corner of St James’s Park – struggled to keep the ball, with Metalist enjoying the more meaningful possession for a spell.
When they did make it to the final third, Newcastle couldn’t play a telling ball, and Sylvain Marveaux replaced Obertan – who had drifted out of the game – for the last half hour.
Soon, United were in control, but they couldn’t make a spell of pressure count.
Cisse forced a 69th-minute save from Goryainov with a low strike from a Santon ball.
The striker had the ball in the net four minutes later after getting on the end of a Yanga-Mbiwa cross, but again it was ruled out for offside. The call was more marginal than the first, but that was little comfort to Pardew and his players.
Try as they might, Newcastle just couldn’t find a way through.
Not even substitute Shola Ameobi – the club’s European talisman – could get a sight of goal.
Deep in injury time, Cisse somehow put a diving header into the hands of Goryainov.
It was that kind of night.
And a European campaign which started in the heat of Athens back in August now hinges on a winter night in Kharkiv.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 7; Yanga-Mbiwa 6, S Taylor 7, Coloccini 7, Santon 6; Tiote 6 (Shola Ameobi, 79), Cabaye 7; Obertan 6 (Marveaux, 62, 7), SISSOKO 8, Gutierrez 5; Cisse 6. Subs not used: Elliot, Simpson, Haidara, Anita, Perch.
METALIST KHARKIV: Goryainov; Villagra, Gueye, Torsiglieri, Fininho; Edmar, Torres; Marlos (Willian, 73), Cleiton Xavier, Sosa; Cristaldo (Jaja , 82). Subs not used: Disljenkovic, Berezovchuk, Shelayev, Blanco, Krasnopyorov.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Moussa Sissoko. Another powerful performance.
HIGHLIGHT: The atmosphere generated by fans, especially in the Strawberry corner. European nights are always special.
LOWLIGHT: The linesman’s decision for Papiss Demba Cisse’s first “goal” – it was clearly onside.
Bookings: Tiote 28, Cabaye 33, Sissoko 81, Gutierrez 86, William 88, Torres 90
Referee: Tom Hagen (Norway)
Attendance: 30,157 (570 Kharkiv)