Rio Ave 3 Newcastle United 1

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IF only this pre-season was just about what happened on the field.

If only it was that simple. Invariably, it never is at Newcastle United.

On the pitch, Alan Pardew’s side were far from convincing in a dreadful opening 45 minutes against Rio Ave

They were better after the break, much better, but the damage had already been done under the last of the day’s sun on the Portuguese coast.

But the club’s 3-1 defeat at the Estadio do Rio Ave was quickly overshadowed by developments back in England.

And it wasn’t the news supporters, waiting for a transfer breakthrough, had been expecting.

Mick Harford is joining the club as director of football Joe Kinnear’s assistant.

It’s a curious appointment, and just how Harford – who had spells at Newcastle and Sunderland in his playing career – dovetails into the club’s management structure remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Kinnear’s position is becoming more entrenched.

Can the same be said about Pardew’s own position?

Certainly, the arrival of Harford – who assisted Kinnear during his managerial career – has led fans to question just where will the summer upheaval end. With Kinnear as manager and Harford as his assistant?

Pardew and his staff can only focus on their jobs.

New ideas have been brought to the training field over the past few weeks, and the players, it seems, are buying into the increased emphasis on fitness.

Over time it will become clear whether changes in coaching will pay dividends.

But will Pardew be given time?

What he needs as much as time is players, and the lack of incoming activity is troubling.

The sight of striker Shola Ameobi leaving the Estadio do Rio Ave with his arm heavily bandaged and facing a spell on the sidelines underlined the paucity of Pardew’s striking options, with Papiss Demba Cisse seemingly heading for the exit door.

Ameobi netted against Rio Ave in the 76th minute after coming off the bench, the 31-year-old getting on the end of a right-wing cross from Gabriel Obertan.

Half-time substitutes Obertan and Sammy Ameobi helped enliven United in the final third of the pitch.

At the other,, they had goalkeeper Rob Elliot – who replaced Jak Alnwick for the second half – to thank for saving a penalty from Sandro Lima after Mike Williamson was adjudged to have fouled the striker in the box.

Newcastle were more positive and aggressive after the break, but the damage had been done in the first half.

Ahmed Kasson scored twice inside the first nine minutes, and defensive hestitancy allowed Braga to score a third. All three were soft goals.

There were long-range efforts from Sylvain Marveaux and Yohan Cabaye, handed the captain’s armband.

Marveaux forced a fine save from Ederson 10 minutes before the interval, and after twice shooting wide, Cabaye struck the crossbar late in the half.

Newcastle lacked a cutting edge, as they did last season.

With the season less than a month away, Pardew needs two – possibly three – strikers.

With the club in talks with Olympique Lyonnais over a move for Bafetimbi Gomis, there could be a breakthrough over the next 48 hours.

Better late than never.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Alnwick (Elliot, 46); Santon (Williamson, 70), S Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Dummett; Cabaye (Tiote, 46), Anita (Campbell, 76); Marveaux (Obertan, 46), Vuckic (Sissoko, 46), Gutierrez (Sammy Ameobi, 46); Gouffran (Shola Ameobi, 62).

RIO AVE: Ederson, Tarantini, Hassan, Diego, Braga, Vilas Boas, Dias, Marcelo, Lionn, Del Valle, Wakaso.

Goals: Hassan 4, 9 Braga 26, Shola Ameobi 76

Bookings: Vilas Boas 43

Referee: Pedro Campos

Attendance: 1,853