Newcastle United’s Europa League campaign got off to an anti-climatic start this evening, as the Magpies were held to a goalless draw against Maritimo.

The woodwork was the busiest part of the pitch as the Geordies struck it three times, while also having numerous chances denied by a combination of last ditch defending and poor finishing. The hosts also had chances to cause an upset, with Toon keeper Rob Elliot pulling off a number of eye-catching saves to keep the scores level and Davide Santon clearing off the line with minutes to go.

On reflection, it will go down as a decent away point for Newcastle, as they struggled with the searing temperatures, as well as the poor playing surface. The dry pitch put pay to anything that could have been described as “sexy football” and instead most of the chances came from dead ball situations.

It was the home side who had the first clear chance, as midfielder Sami connected with a sweet volley from a corner, only for Elliot to dive low to his right and tip the shot over the bar. Newcastle were a much changed side from the one who battled to a draw against Everton on Monday night, but ironically it was the only unchanged unit – the defence – that was struggling against the hosts. Sami broke through again after Mike Williamson made a hash of a simple clearance, but again Elliot spared his blushes.

Alan Pardew’s side were shocked into life by the near misses and began to turn the screw themselves. In fact it was Williamson who had the chance to make up for his earlier near error when his shot was blocked as it headed in and the rebound fell to Shola Ameobi, who could only head onto the base of the post. From the corner, Dan Gosling came even closer as his shot flew past Romain Salin, only to crack the post and go behind.

Early in the second period, the next to hit the woodwork was Ameobi himself, who dispossessed a defender before curling an effort back off the bar. The 4,000 crowd began to get the feeling that they weren’t going to see any goals.
As Newcastle’s creativity dipped, Pardew threw on Sammy Ameobi to partner his older brother Shola up front but the move didn’t quite pay off. Regular watchers of Sammy won’t be surprised to hear that while his attacks had plenty of pace and panache, there was no end product as Newcastle toiled in the 29 degree heat.

Both sets of woodwork were breathing a sigh of relief as the final whistle neared, although there was still time for one more near miss. A Goncalo Abreu corner was flicked on, Valentin Roberge connected with a thunderous header, the ball struck the bar and Davide Santon was quick enough to head off the line as the crowd of bodies tried to bundle it home.

When the final whistle sounded and the builders at the Estadio Dos Barreiros Funchal picked up their tools to continue the refurbishment of the stadium, they might want to take a closer look at the goal frames after they took a severe battering from both sides tonight.

The other game in the group was pretty one sided, as Bordeaux ran out 4-0 winners over Club Bruges, meaning the next Europa game against the French side will be against the side who are odds on to go through to the knockout stages. The performance will have to be better, but this wasn’t as bad as some might have you believe.

By Chief Sports Writer, Marley Anderson