Toon Army - Our Man In Gent

Last updated : 16 February 2007 By Footy Mad - Editor

Thursday February 15th 2007

ZULTE-WAREGEM: Merlier, De Brul (Van Steenbrugge 81), D'Haene,Dindeleux, Leleu, Reina, Meert (Buysse 86), Sergeant,Van Den Driessche (Vandermarliere 65), Verschuere, Matthys.
Subs Not Used: Bossut, Siani.

NEWCASTLE UTD: Harper, Solano, Taylor, Bramble, Babayaro, Milner,Butt, Dyer, Duff, Martins (Luque 85), Sibierski.
Subs Not Used: Srnicek, Carroll, Edgar, Huntington, Pattison, Troisi.

Att: 8,015

By Denis Taylor

Sunny Gent, and certainly a nice place for a European trip. Easy enough to get to, although I feel the Belgians could have been more helpful providing us with tickets. I heard a rumour that we turned down the chance to have up to 1,500 tickets for tonight, and once inside I couldn't believe the empty seats.

I ended up travelling on my own as my mate who was coming with me paid up for the trip beforehand but got knocked back for a ticket. I was the only one from five to get a ticket from the ticket office, as thousands were knocked back.

Travelling by Eurostar took no time at all and I arrived here about 6.30 local time on Wednesday night.

Staying at the Europa hotel I managed to get a reduction on the room and it ended up costing me about 50 quid a night. Clean and spacious, the staff were really friendly and helpful.

I ventured out in the town last night and went to an area called Overport which seems to be where all the bars are and met up with lads Low Fell who I know and had a good night. It was fairly busy late on a lot of students out and young couples celebrating valentines night as there seemed to be candle lit tables in nearly every bar we were in.

The match was another superb European away performance by the Toon, helped by an own goal from Antoine Sibierski's old mate Frederic Dindeleux and a "fortunate" penalty. But no-one can doubt we deserved the win. We were better in every department, and three away goals was just up our street, and ended a great trip.

0-0 at half-time, but United did everything expected of them. The back-line looked solid and full marks to Babayaro who was superb down the left, always making himself available and never wasting a ball. Taylor held the line together and Bramble seemed focused.

However there was one idiot on the field, Bulgarian referee Anton Genov who flashed yellow cards at anyone who happened to be within a yard of him, and had both sets of players puzzled by decisions.

The Belgian Cup holders were neat and tidy in possession and nothing if not hard working, but they gifted Newcastle chances inside the opening 45 minutes which should have proved fatal. But they survived to the break without conceding due to poor finishing from the Magpies.

Leading scorer Martins was the main culprit, firing hopelessly wide on 25 minutes after being played in by Kieron Dyer and then saw Merlier save his effort from point-blank range on the stroke of half-time.

James Milner and Duff had earlier missed the target after working themselves into promising shooting positions, and while Dyer did make the keeper work to preserve his clean sheet after Martins returned the favour with 29 minutes gone, he should really have done better.

Zulte, who included four part-timers in their starting line-up, created little at the other end, although they had appeals for a 29th-minute penalty turned down by Genov after Tony Sergeant's effort struck Steven Taylor's hand.

However, keeper Steve Harper did not have a single shot to save during the opening 45 minutes with his defenders rarely in any real trouble.

The deadlock was finally broken within 90 seconds of the restart, although the Magpies needed a helping hand from their opponents to beat Merlier. Nobby Solano picked out Dyer's intelligent run and when he drove the ball across goal, Dindeleux deflected the ball into his own net.

Martins hit the outside of the post from a narrow angle and then blasted wide from distance as the Magpies stepped up a gear, and he finally got his reward on 59 minutes. Duff's surging run into the box came to an end when he went down under Merlier's challenge, and although replays showed there was minimal contact, the referee pointed to the spot.

Martins, who had handed spot-kick duties over to Solano after missing at Everton in December, took charge and sent the keeper the wrong way with his left foot.

Midfielder D'Haene climbed to meet Loris Reina's free-kick and glance a header past Harper to give his side hope, and then forced Shay Given's deputy to tip a long-range piledriver over the bar three minutes later.

But Sibierski restored order 14 minutes from time with a brilliant individual goal, mesmerising Dindeleux and Stefan Leleu before rounding Merlier to pass the ball into the empty net.