NEWCASTLE United are in the Europa League’s Round of 32 – but at what cost?
Hatem Ben Arfa limped off the field clutching his hamstring.
And his team limped into the competition’s knockout stages on a disappointing evening at St James’s Park.
The sight of an injured Ben Arfa leaving the field early in last night’s 1-1 draw against Maritimo was a sobering one for those fans who had spilled out the city’s pubs and into St James’s Park.
Ben Arfa, after all, has been the club’s biggest attacking threat in domestic football this season.
No wonder manager Alan Pardew was so reluctant to risk him in Europe.
Still, by the time the forward left the field, he had at least had some impact on the game, which was more than could be said of some players.
It was his pass that found Sylvain Marveaux for what turned out to be Newcastle’s only goal.
Unfortunately for those hardy United fans that turned up, it wasn’t a winning goal, with substitute Fidelis claiming a well-deserved point for Maritimo with a strike 11 minutes from time.
Papiss Demba Cisse also left the field with a thigh injury as Newcastle’s 127th game in Europe was one to forget.
Ben Arfa’s fateful first appearance in the Europa League this season was played out in front of the lowest home crowd yet, 21,632.
The weather was far cry from the meeting between the two sides at Maritimo’s half-built Estadio does Barreiros home in September, which was played out in Madeira’s intense heat and humidity.
Yet the visitors made a decent enough fist of the first 20 minutes on a damp and cold Tyneside night.
It was a sign of things to come from the hard-working Madeiran team.
While United – who were set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cisse at the tip – were over-ambitious with some of their attempted balls, Maritimo kept it simple.
Only Davide Santon troubled visiting goalkeeper Romain Salin – he had a fierce 20-yard shot pushed away – until Marveaux’s 23rd-minute intervention.
Ben Arfa found him on the edge of the box with a neat pass, and he strode forward and calmly placed the ball through Salin’s legs with his left foot.
The goal wasn’t the only talking point of the first-half.
Ben Arfa left the field with a hamstring problem before the break – Demba Ba replaced him – and Newcastle couldn’t add to their advantage before the interval.
Romain Amalfitano came on for the injured Cisse early in the second half, and Salin did well to get to a deflected shot from Sammy Ameobi.
At the other end, Tim Krul did well to parry a shot from Danilo Dias as Maritimo – without a win in Group D – showed they weren’t going to go down without a fight.
United, as they have done in the Premier League all too often, toiled through the second half.
It wasn’t the kind of performance Pardew had been looking for after successive home defeats in the Premier League, and Newcastle were fortunate that Maritimo didn’t possess a striker capable of hitting the target, though Krul had to be at his best to push away a near-post shot from Ruben Ferreira.
However, Fidelis’s introduction from the bench changed that.
The striker jinked his way into the box in the 79th minute before rolling the ball under Krul to level the scores.
There was no comeback from United, and there were inevitable boos at the final whistle, as there had been on Saturday when Swansea City claimed all three points.
Newcastle are the only English club definitely through to the Round of 32 thanks to Bordeaux’s 2-1 win over Club Brugge in Belgium.
But that was little consolation for supporters at the final whistle after another indifferent performance at St James’s Park.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: KRUL 7; Simpson 6, S Taylor 6, Coloccini 6, Santon 6; Bigirimana 6, Anita 6; Sammy Ameobi 5 (Abeid, 77), Ben Arfa 6 (Ba, 40, 5), Marveaux 7; Cisse 6 (Amalfitano, 51, 6). Subs not used: Elliot, Williamson, Ferguson, Tavernier.
MARITIMO: Salin, Diogo, Rosario, Miranda, Roberge, Sami, Luiz, Adilson (Fidelis, 59), Dias, Ferreira, Simao (Brigido, 73). Subs not used: Ricardo, Olim, Briguel, Antonio, Guilherme.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Tim Krul. It could have been worse had it not have been for him.
HIGHLIGHT: Sylvain Marveaux’s goal first United goal was the only highlight of a disappointing night.
LOWLIGHT: The sight of Hatem Ben Arfa limping off with a hamstring injury before half-time was one the Newcastle fans dreaded.
Goals: Marveaux 23, Fidelis 79
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Holland)