The competition may finally have arrived at St James’ Park but Shola Ameobi showed he is up to the challenge with his fourth pre-season goal.
Newcastle United were heading for a mildly embarrassing defeat to the once-mighty Rangers when the striker, played through by his brother Sammy, dinked the ball over Cammy Brown.
There were good things to take from Newcastle’s latest cross-border raid, but a 1-1 draw ensured the “positives” did not have too hollow a ring about them.
Rangers may once have been Scottish Premier League giants but these days Ibrox Park is more impressive than its bite. Most of those in blue were not even official Rangers players yet, “trialists”, unable to officially sign until the club’s transfer embargo is lifted on September 1.
Before the match manager Alan Pardew promised “probably my strongest team of pre-season” and apart from the incongruous blue socks and the absence of any August signings, it had the look of a side to face Manchester City on the opening weekend. The first – and so far – only summer addition, on-loan striker Loic Remy, was not involved having only signed the previous day.
There were a few defensive lapses which need to be ironed out before the season starts, but on the ball Newcastle looked good.
They started badly, though.
Rusty after starting his pre-season late then seeing it disrupted by suspension, Fabricio Coloccini thought he was easing Nicky Clark off the ball but referee Steve McClean saw it a little less charitably, awarding a fifth-minute penalty which Lee McCulloch drilled to Tim Krul’s left.
The scores were nearly levelled from a party piece. The Magpies’ dead-ball work was a source of constant frustration last season, but Mathieu Debuchy nearly scored from a corner, sneaking up on the far right of the penalty area as Yohan Cabaye planted the ball perfectly for his close friend to volley with his right foot.
The full-back caught it beautifully but Cammy Bell reacted well to keep it out. Just as well. Had it gone in the goal would have been wasted on pre-season. Perhaps moves like that are best kept out of prying eyes until the real stuff starts.
Debuchy was soon in action at the other end, awkwardly cutting out a dangerous Arnold Peralta cross. It needed Steven Taylor to block Lewis McLeod’s shot.
One of those under threat from Loic Remy, Jonas Gutierrez, looked in the mood, running at Richard Foster at every available opportunity. He forced his way to the byline in the 16th minute, but Moussa Sissoko was unable to get a clean touch on his shot.
Cabaye’s from distance five minutes later was much better, allowing the ball to come across him, only for it to do the same to the goal.
Hatem Ben Arfa was also in shoot-on-sight mode, never more impressively than when he let fly from 35 yards with two minutes to go in the first half, his effort narrowly clearing the crossbar.
Davide Santon caused Bell his biggest problem in the first half, hitting a swerving shot when Ben Arfa laid the ball back to him which wrong-footed the goalkeeper, who recovered well.
Newcastle may have been the better team but Rangers had not been neutered, former Hartlepool United striker Jon Daly shooting at Krul after Taylor had ended Lee Wallace’s run.
The referee seemed mercifully reluctant to give his cards an airing, telling off Debuchy for persistent fouling, but doing no more. But when Sissoko and Peralta had a difference of opinion over the quality of the latter’s tackle, he had no choice but to get them out. Perhaps in a competitive game Sissoko might have seen red for seeing red, though it would have been harsh.
Cabaye also got into a grumpy mood, having a little push and shove early in the second half with Ian Black but it was nothing to get excited about. As is sadly the way in pre-season friendlies, the second half was harder to take worthwhile conclusions from, littered as it was by a constant flow of substitutions.
Again Newcastle’s defenders were a little slow to switch on, but not their goalkeeper. Rob Elliot had not been on the field three minutes when he tipped Nicky Clark’s shot over after the midfielder had burst down the right wing. Debuchy had an eventful couple of minutes midway through the second half, seemingly hurting himself while wildly shooting off target, then unwittingly playing the ball into the path of Andrew Little, whose strike whistled wide.
Maybe it was because they had twice as many outfield substitutes on by then, but the Scottish League One side were starting to take control of the second half. Pardew responded with a triple substitution.
Yoan Gouffran became the back-up centre-forward, which could turn out to be his role in the opening weeks, while Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had looked classy until a panicky moment late on when he was fortunate not to have been penalised for prematurely trying to swap shirts with Clark.
Newcastle passed the ball around well in the closing stages, but did little to trouble Bell. The goalkeeper had enjoyed a quieter night than he might have expected until a late flurry in the last six minutes. Taylor had a header from a late corner which Rangers were forced to scramble over and Dan Gosling forced the ball across goal moments later without it taking a touch. It looked like that might be as good as it got until the brothers intervened.
RANGERS (4-4-2): Bell; Forster, McCulloch (Faure HT), Mohsni, Wallace (Hegarty 69); Peralta (Aird 78), Black (Murdoch 57), Law (McAusland 63), McLeod (Crawford HT); Daly (Little 59), Clark. Subs (not used): Gallacher, McKay, Gasparotto, Mitchell.
Booked: Peralta 42
Goal: McCulloch 5 (pen).
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-2-3-1): Krul (Elliot HT); Debuchy, S Taylor, Coloccini (Yanga-Mbiwa 73), Santon (Dummett 64); Cabaye (Gosling 81), Tiote (Anita 73); Ben Arfa (Gouffran HT), Sissoko (Marveaux 64), Gutierrez (S Ameobi 81); Cisse (F Ameobi 73).
Booked: Sissoko 42.
Goal: F Ameobi 90+1
Referee: Steven McClean.