ALAN Pardew asked for a bit more from Shola Ameobi in north east Ukraine last night – and was rewarded with a match-winning performance.
The 31-year-old’s inclusion was a major surprise when Pardew named his team for the second leg of Newcastle United’s Europa League last-32 tie with Metalist Kharkiv.
And as well as playing his part in Pardew’s tactical plan, Ameobi also scored the only goal in 180 minutes of football between the sides – his 15th in continental competition.
Afterwards, Pardew revealed he had picked Ameobi in spite of being unhappy with some of his recent performances.
“I had a little quiet word with Shola before the game because, in the last few weeks, I thought his contribution could have been greater,” said the manager. “But he’s shown what quality he has, and against this team, I always thought he might influence the game.
“He did that all night really and it bodes well for moving forward. We will be fighting on two fronts and have some very important Premier League games to come as well as continuing in this competition. He’s going to play a significant role between now and the end of the season.”
Ameobi’s goal came from the penalty spot after 63 minutes. Newcastle also needed some impressive goalkeeping from Tim Krul, who pulled off a string of saves in the last quarter of an hour.
Krul left the stadium on crutches after an apparent stamp to his left ankle by Jonathan Cristaldo, but the problem is not thought to be too serious. Newcastle will certainly hope so, with a Premier League game at home to Southampton on Sunday.
The victory set up a tie with FC Anzhi Makhachkala in the next round. The first leg is on March 7, and is due to be played in Moscow, though this is to be confirmed with Rubin Kazan also through.
The tie was a tactical triumph for Pardew, who played with Papiss Cissé on the right of a 4-2-3-1. He was not helped when a virus for Cheick Tiote forced a late reshuffle.
“I thought over the two legs it was a really good encounter,” he said. “I definitely felt we deserved to win the first game, and here I felt as though we had a good grip of the game right through the first 60 minutes.
“I was really pleased with the team, and we got the goal at a great time. We had to weather a little storm in the last 15 minutes as you would expect, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the team and I thought every part of the team played well. It’s an important result for us. We lost Cheick just before the game, but Vurnon did an excellent job coming in late. He only knew an hour before we kicked off that he was going to play.
“With (Hatem) Ben Arfa coming back (from a hamstring injury), and Cheik to add to that side, I really feel as though we can give this competition a good go.”
Massadio Haidara made his Newcastle debut at left-back, and Pardew was pleased with his contribution.
“It was a bit of a case of into the lion’s den for Massadio, but he coped very well,” said Pardew. “I thought he was up against a good player, but he showed he’s got great potential for us.
“Mapou (Yanga-Mbiwa) is what he is, a quality centre-half, and we now find ourselves in the fortunate position of having Steven (Taylor, who was rested), Mapou and Colo (Fabricio Coloccini) who are all producing top-drawer performances at the moment. If we had conceded with ten minutes to go, it might have been difficult for us. But a couple of key minutes and some critical defending saw us home.”
There were confrontations between police and home fans who tried unsuccessfully to run onto the pitch after the full-time whistle and reports of trouble between the opposing supporters before the game.