NEWCASTLE United’s Europa League odyssey was meant to gauge how they measured up against the cream of the continent.
Today they find they are merely on a par with non-league neighbours Whitley Bay after both drew with Metalist Kharkiv in less than a week.
The Ukrainian side warmed up for Thursday’s first leg tie at St James’s Park with a 1-1 friendly on the Tyneside coast on Sunday night.
They even threatened on occasions to trump that footballing feat during a tense round of 32 clash with the Magpies.
But a draw was the least Newcastle deserved and Alan Pardew’s side only have themselves to blame for failing to take a lead east next week.
Pardew predictably blamed the officials for disallowing two Papiss Cisse strikes.
But Cisse himself still had amble opportunity to make those decisions meaningless after missing a succession of other chances.
Nor did Pardew mention that Cheick Tiote was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for yet another juvenile challenge when the referee waved on during a flowing Kharkiv break.
As for the overruled efforts, the vistors’ keeper had already stopped playing before Cisse netted the first and replays show the second decision was correct by inches.
So where does the frustrating stalemate leave Newcastle United?
With the club opting not to compete in this year’s FA Cup, Thursday’s first leg was always going to take place before a fixtureless weekend.
Next Thursday’s mammoth trip, however, takes place just 72 hours before a vital Premier League match against fellow strugglers Southampton.
Does Pardew juggle his pack and risk European elimination to ensure top flight survival?
Given the added financial awards for staying in the Premier League next season then you bet he does.
I don’t think we have heard the last of Cisse’s disallowed efforts and can already see them appearing as post-match defence witnesses to explain another pitiful cup exit.
– GAVIN LEDWITH