As the curtain descended on Atromitos’s European adventure last night, Newcastle United fans were pondering where their latest European adventure would take them next. Newcastle have come a long way since their last European campaign in 2007, which came to a premature end at the hands of AZ Alkmaar; and many fans will be relishing the prospect of some mid-week fun in the sun. However, whilst the prospect of an extended Europa League campaign on top of Newcastle United’s domestic obligations is cited as a reward for a finishing fifth in the Premier League, it may prove to be a poisoned chalice, as Stoke found out last year when their league form suffered after their mid-week European adventures. Indeed one of the perils of having a mid-week game before a weekend Premier League encounter, was highlighted in the eighth minute when Ryan Taylor fell awkwardly, twisted his knee and was assisted down the tunnel in obvious discomfort. Losing one of our most versatile squad players is a big blow, particularly when most of our closest competitors in the Premier League are strengthening their squads during this transfer window, whilst Mike Ashley continues to keep his hands in his pockets.

Ryan Taylor’s injury threatened to disrupt Newcastle’s early momentum; however his replacement, Haris Vuckic, broke the Greeks’ resistance with a deflected shot from outside the area in the 21st minute. Newcastle threatened to extend their lead throughout the first half with a fine display of passing which released the both Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux whose pace and trickery bewildered the Greek defenders. However, despite setting up some promising positions Newcastle’s final ball was found wanting. Indeed the best chance of the first half fell to the visitors as Tim Krul was unable to hold on to Dennis Epstein’s shot and the loose ball fell to Chumbinho who looked as if he had won a penalty, only to look on aghast as the Swiss referee elected to give him a yellow card for diving.

After the break Newcastle looked to increase their lead, and secure their place in the Europa draw, but Atromitos’s goalkeeper, Itandje managed to thwart efforts by Marveaux, Obertan and Demba Ba and the quality of our crossing and set play definitely needs to be worked on in training. One pleasing aspect of Newcastle’s play was the endeavour shown by Obertan, who had by far his best match in a black and white shirt, and worked tirelessly up and down the right hand touchline. Although he still needs to work on his final ball, his pace will create opportunities especially against tiring defenders and he will prove to be a valuable squad player this season.

Only one of our summer acquisitions enjoyed an extended run out last night, with Gael Bigirimana showing some promise as he opted against any expansive play in favour of retaining the ball. This tactic should have been utilised by Dan Gosling who consistently ran into trouble and was fortunate that the Greeks were unable to capitalise when he passed straight to an opposition player just outside Newcastle’s area.

As the second half ran on Newcastle’s passing moves faded, as players elected to try and run through Atromitos and consequently the Greek’s had much more opportunity to counter-attack. Indeed, Atromitos were gifted an opportunity to equalise during the last ten minutes as the ball cannoned off Bigirimana and fell to Elini Dimoutsos inside the area. However, Dimoutsos’ shot sailed wide of the goal and the Newcastle faithful breathed a huge sigh of relief. The last chance of the match fell to Gosling, who was set up by Bigirimana on the edge of the box but his shot sailed high over the bar.

The tension which built up during the second half of the match as Newcastle failed to extend their lead seemed to transmit from the stands to the players on the pitch, which encouraged the Greeks’ to drive at the Newcastle backline. This experience will help the younger players who will have to deal with the expectation levels at Newcastle, but Alan Pardew will have to work on their concentration levels. If we are to progress far in the Europa league this season we will have to utilise our youngsters in tandem with some of the senior members of our squad and it remains to be seen whether we can sustain a challenge on two fronts, domestically and abroad.

Newcastle scraped through this tie, and will have to improve if they are to progress in Europe this season. However, the supporters will be relieved that they have avoided any of the big names in today’s draw. Trips to Bordeaux (France), Brugge (Belgium) and Maritimo (Portugal) will entice many fans away from the dark winters’ nights but it remains to be seen whether our squad is strong enough to mount much of an assault on Europe.

By Rachel Horne