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Newcastle cruise to European success
BORDEAUX is the wine capital of Europe, so perhaps it was only fitting that Newcastle United produced a vintage European display when the French city's footballers came to town.
A Europa League campaign that had been somewhat subdued in the opening three matches exploded into life as the Magpies outclassed their Ligue One opponents, who had thrashed Club Brugge 4-0 in their opening Group D game.
Goals from Shola Ameobi and Papiss Cisse sandwiched a first-half own goal from Brazilian defender Henrique to send Newcastle to the top of the table and confirm Alan Pardew's side as worthy favourites to progress to the knock-out phase.
They might still have some way to go to match some of the magical European nights that have been staged at St James' Park in the last decade, but after this performance, it at least feels as though their continental campaign is properly up and running.
With the likes of Danny Simpson, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Cisse all involved from the outset, Pardew named comfortably the strongest starting line-up to represent Newcastle in Europe this season.
He was rewarded with the club's most complete display in any competition so far, with the Magpies causing a succession of attacking problems through Ameobi, Cisse and the impressive Gabriel Obertan and encountering precious few problems at the back despite the absence of both of their first-choice centre-halves.
It is hoped that Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini will be in contention for Sunday's Premier League game with Manchester United, but the return of Simpson and Cabaye against Bordeaux was a welcome fillip.
Cabaye, an established France international and former French league and cup winner with Lille, had been particularly desperate to be involved, and the midfielder was the dominant force for most of the evening.
He set the tone for a positive opening with a second-minute shot that flashed narrowly past the upright, had a crowd of over 30,000 on its feet with a 14th-minute free-kick that ripped into the side netting, and was the catalyst for the strike that broke the deadlock two minutes later.
His superb cross-field pass released Obertan down the left-hand side, not always a situation that has proved productive for the Magpies in the past.
Obertan, who started his career at Bordeaux before moving to Manchester United, has generally infuriated in a Newcastle shirt, but he tore on the outside of Mariano and delivered an inviting low cross that Ameobi turned home from inside the six-yard box.
It was surely the simplest of Ameobi's 13 European goals, and cemented his second position in United's all-time list of continental goalscorers.
It was no more than Newcastle deserved, with Obertan's direct running causing a succession of problems and Ameobi holding the ball up effectively after he was asked to play the central role in a three-man attack ahead of Cisse.
However, the hosts never enjoyed complete dominance, and Bordeaux, currently fifth in the French top-flight, proved adept at pouring forward on the counter-attack.
They should probably have claimed the lead before Newcastle scored – Ludovic Obraniak heading over when well positioned eight yards out – and only a last-ditch sliding tackle from Mike Williamson prevented their leading goalscorer, Yoan Gouffran, from finding the target with a 29th-minute shot that might well have evaded Rob Elliot.
Had Bordeaux made it to half-time only one goal in arrears, the second half might well have been a more competitive affair. As it was, an own goal five minutes before the break effectively settled the contest.
Simpson, returning after a five-game injury lay-off, delivered a teasing cross from the right, and a hapless Henrique nipped ahead of his goalkeeper to slice an attempted clearance into his own net. Ameobi was in reasonably close proximity to the centre-half, but there very little pressure when he made his mistake.
Bordeaux goalkeeper Cedric Carrasson made a decent save from Vurnon Anita to at least limit the first-half damage, but it took Newcastle just four second-half minutes to claim a third.
Cisse has struggled to find his best form this season, but after breaking his duck at Old Trafford last week, the Senegal international produced a masterful finish to further underline his well-being last night.
Shane Ferguson's hanging left-wing cross caught the visiting defence napping, but Cisse still had to show wonderful dexterity to hook the ball home when it appeared to be drifting behind him.
The rest of the second half was a somewhat low key affair, with Pardew taking the opportunity to rest Cabaye and Tiote, no doubt with at least half an eye on the visit of Manchester United.
Bordeaux introduced David Bellion in an attempt to get back into the game, and substitute goalkeeper Steve Harper was forced into a smart save with his legs to deny the former Sunderland striker.