Champions League 2002/03 v Europa League 2012/13
‘The additional demands of 14 European games has been a major contributing factor in our recent decline’ (Alan Pardew).
Interesting point in theory, often the lads have looked jaded in the games after our Europa league exploits (not to mention any injuries that may have been picked up our travels) but how much of a difference has it really made to our, admittedly poor, season?
This season Newcastle United have played 14 games in Europe on top of 2 games in the domestic cups and 38 in the league, an identical amount of matches to the class of 2003 under Bobby Robson (although his team were playing far superior opposition in The Champions League).
What is often remembered is how Bobby Robson’s talented side swashbuckled their way to the last 16 of the competition and became the first side to qualify from a group stage despite losing their first 3 matches without even scoring a goal! What is often forgotten is how we did the weekend after those games, so how did the Toon get on in the matches directly after those European excursions?
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In order to qualify for the first group stage of the Champions League, Newcastle had to brave the hostile environment of Zeljeznicar in Sarajevo and came away with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Kieron Dyer effort, we didn’t have a match until the following Monday when we kicked off our Premier league campaign with a 4-0 hammering of a doomed West Ham side with all goals coming in the second half, LuaLua scoring twice. The second leg of the Zeljeznicar tie was a more routine 4-0 win featuring a first Toon strike for Portuguese teenager Hugo Viana, this match was also followed by a game the following Monday which saw an impressive 2-2 draw at Anfield, Speed and Shearer clawing the Toon back in the last 10 minutes to partially avenge numerous late Anfield heartache for the Toon Army (Collymore, Fowler and Redknapp all scoring last minute winners against us during the premiership era).
After this 5-0 aggregate demolition, Newcastle United were back in the big time for their first Champions League adventure in 5 years. A tricky group saw us draw Dynamo Kiev of the Ukraine, Juventus of Italy and Dutch team Feyenoord. We didn’t get off to the best of starts, Bobby’s boys failing to emulate the class of 97 (who drew 2-2 in Kiev) with a comprehensive defeat to the Ukraine lads as Bellamy saw himself retrospectively banned for a needless head butt. We roared back to form in the league however with a 2-0 victory over the old enemy Sunderland at St James’ Park, Bellamy racing through to score after only 81 seconds and Shearer hammering a touched-on free kick to bury the red and whites before half-time in a match that really could have ended up 10-0 such was our dominance (take note class of 2013!).
A better European performance than Kiev was seen at St James’ against Feyenoord with the consensus being the Toon were unlucky to lose 1-0 after conceding an early goal, this was followed up with a televised 2-0 victory away to Birmingham City with Solano and Ameobi hitting the net. The games were now coming thick and fast and a 2-0 defeat away to footballing giants Juventus (in which the Toon were wrongly denied a Shearer header which would have made the score 1-1) that seemed to consign our Champions League dream to the history books (or did it?), which preceded a 2-1 win at home to West Brom with a Shearer brace.
The second half of this group stage was when European history and Toon Army folklore were really made. First up was the return match with Juventus which is one of the few occasions I can recall a Newcastle team wearing the away shirt at St James’. This didn’t seem to confuse the lads though as they put in a hell of a shift to beat the powerhouse of Italian football 1-0 with a goal from Andy Griffin of all people! You may expect the lads to be tired after this pulsating performance but they bounced back to beat Charlton 2-1 at home with Griffin again getting amongst the goals, this one a 20 yard screamer before Robert made the points safe. Dynamo Kiev soon became the next team to be slain at St James’ despite taking a 1-0 lead, 2nd half goals from Speed and then Shearer (pen) meant that we still had a small mathematical (but seemingly impossible) chance of making the last 16 if both group results went our way on match day 6. The boys were on a roll now and comfortably dispatched Middlesbrough courtesy of Ameobi and Caldwell in a 2-0 win.
Then the night came, one of the most fascinating, gut wrenching and ultimately glorious evenings following the Toon in our entire history. I surely don’t need to recite any stats for this match as you all must remember where you were when Bellamy and Viana put us 2-0 up, Feyenoord clawed 2 goals back and in injury time a Kieron Dyer shot rebounded to Craig Bellamy who blasted the ball against the stranded keeper and into the bottom corner of the net. Victory on the night was ours, all we had to do was wait with baited breath for the news to filter through that Juventus had done us a favour and won away in Kiev, amazingly we had done it! Last 16 of the champions league and the first team ever to get out of a group having lost their first 3 matches without so much as a goal to our name. Just remembering my emotions that night has made me feel sleepy so imagine how the lads must have felt. They showed no signs of tiredness however and celebrated in style coming from behind to win 2-1 at home to Southampton.
The second group (last 16) of the Champions League was even trickier than the first. More Italian giants in the shape of Inter Milan, 2002 finalists Bayern Leverkusen and Bobby Robson’s former club – the mighty F.C Barcelona, were joined by our heroes for another Rollercoaster. First up was Milan on a night when nothing went right, behind early on, Bellamy sent off in the first 5 minutes, 3-0 down at half time and Shearer retrospectively banned for an off the ball incident during a 4-1 mauling (Solano for us). Bellamy partially redeemed himself however as we beat Everton 2-1 in a game that also featured THAT goal from Alan Shearer. Next up was a rain delayed game at the impressive Camp Nou, Shola equalising for us and Toon putting in a decent performance despite a 3-1 defeat for the Geordies. This was followed with a credible draw at bogey ground Southampton as the Champions League took a winter break.
Fast forward two months and the Toon were handed 4 games that had the potential to shape their season. Leverkusen away, Leeds away, Leverkusen home and Chelsea at home. Ameobi and Lua Lua confidently swept Leverkusen away during a routine 3-1 victory which came before one of our best performances of the year at Elland Road, Dyer instrumental in a 3-0 victory. Leverkusen at home were no match for Alan Shearer, the lion of Gosforth scoring a first half hat-trick in a 3-1 pasting for the German team. A Hasselbaink own goal and an Oliver Bernard winner also put paid to Chelsea during one of the most enjoyable spells of the season.
Just two games were left for the magpies in Europe that season, the bravest performance in a generation was watched live by 12,000 black and whites as we were clearly denied the victory we so richly deserved during a 2-2 draw with the Italian cheats (er, I mean giants) featuring two Shearer goals and the entire team coming of age. Inter Milan however walked away with the point and advantage that still rankles amongst all who bore witness, who says cheats never prosper?
The lads proved themselves adverse to wallowing in self-pity however and took the momentum from outclassing Inter over to The Valley to dispatch Charlton 2-0. Our European dream ended with a decent performance over Catalan super stars Barcelona in a 2-0 defeat but the lads didn’t let their disappointment show, running riot in the second half of their next match at home to Blackburn. A 5-1 victory contributed to a 3rd place finish in the Premier League, our highest since 1997.
Our record in 2002/2003 league games directly after Europe:
P 14, W 12, D 2, L 0 Points 38
Our record in 2012/2013 league games directly after Europe:
P 13*, W 5, D 1, L 7 Points 16
(*Metalist games played without League match in between)
Perhaps this season’s involvement in Europe was only a minor part of a far bigger problem.
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