Newcastle hold Anzhi to a goalless draw
With Newcastle missing a number of key players going into the game, Alan Pardew drew up a tactical game plan which suited the playing 11 as best as it could and the execution on the field was equally immaculate by the men in black and white. In a game that involved very little goal mouth action, Newcastle produced a team performance which involved gritty determination and astute tactical display.
While Anzhi dominated much of the possession in the game, they were only restricted to long distance efforts, and whenever those shots threatened the Newcastle goal, as it happened with two Samuel Eto’o efforts, Rob Elliot was on hand to produce two marvellous saves on either side of the half-time interval.
Guus Hiddink’s men, who came in to the game unbeaten in 18 consecutive home games in all competitions, and with a 100% record at home in the competition, named the likes of ex-Barcelona hit-man Samuel Eto’o and their recent €35 million recruit – Willian – in midfield. However, this game was being played in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow which is about 980 miles from the the province of Dagestan, where Anzhi are based.
Newcastle, on the other hand, named an astounding 7 Frenchmen in the starting line-up which included the returning Hatem Ben Arfa on his 26th birthday. Playing in a false 9 role, it was certainly going to be an interesting prospect to watch him play.
The first half was a dull affair to put it gently, with neither team able to get a hold of the ball or get into a passing rhythm. Gabriel Obertan was the only real threat for Anzhi, as he showed a glimpse of his pace every now and then, threatening to get the better of Andrey Eschenko, who was playing in the right back spot rather than his usual left-back position, but his touch often left much to be desired.
Oleg Shatov’s early foray on the left promised a game which would have its fair share of attacking flair, but that was not to be. With Willian taken off on 23 minutes, the task did become a lot simpler for Newcastle but they had a new threat – Lacina Traore – to contend with.
It was not until nearly half-an hour later – in the 39th minute – that the first shot on goal was taken, which was the longest wait for a shot on goal in a Europa League game this season. But Newcastle’s Irish custodian Rob Elliot was on hand to palm the shot over the post to safety. Newcastle, meanwhile, were unable to muster a single shot on goal in the first 45 minutes.
The second half saw the hosts trying to push the tempo of the game a little with the onus on them to make the home advantage count; but there was not much room to be had through the middle with James Perch and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa doing a fine job of throttling the dangerous combination of Eto’o and Traore.
The game still lacked energy and a cutting edge and it was not until the 61st minute that the game saw another shot at goal. It was once again Samuel Eto’o who forced Elliott into another brilliant save as he dived to his right to parry away a hard and low effort.
Newcastle, who hadn’t caused Anzhi keeper Vladimir Gabulov any trouble, probably had the best chance of the game a few minutes later when Hatem Ben Arfa was played in beautifully by his French compatriot Yohan Cabaye following a scramble in the penalty area. However, the mercurial Frenchman tried and audacious dink over the approaching Gabulov from close range. The Russian, however, stood tall and saved comfortably.
That would prove to be the final action of the day for Ben Arfa, who looked out of sorts in his first game back. Newcastle saw the remaining minutes out with ease and looked the more comfortable of the two sides in the dying minutes of the game.
At the blow of the final whistle, it was a job well done for Alan Pardew and his men, and with no fresh injury concerns, they should go into their weekend Premier league against Stoke in good spirits. Newcastle will be too aware of the fate of Metalist Kharkiv, who also drew away at St. James’ Park in the first leg of the previous round.