Monday, July 18, 2005

Chop leaves Souey delighted

ZTS Dubnica 1 - 3 Newcastle

In sizzling Slovakian heat our season swung into action yesterday, nearly a month before the Premiership campaign kicks off. Without even a meaningful friendly beneath their belts, a makeshift side secured a decent enough first leg lead in the Intertoto Cup Third Round tie.

Back in Blighty were Ameobi and Bramble (injured), JJ and Carr (only just back in full training after end-of-season international commitments) and Parker and Emre (as yet unavailable). Add to this the fact that Dyer and Bowyer both picked up knocks on Saturday (presumably not inflicted by each other), Given was left on the bench and we've had a host of departures over the past few weeks, and the team took on an unfamiliar look.

Harper started in goal, Elliott partnered Boumsong in central defence with Taylor and Babayaro in the full-back positions, and the midfield consisted of Milner, Butt, Faye and N'Zogbia.

Up front alongside Shearer, Michael Chopra made only his second start for the first team - and took only four minutes to latch onto Milner's through-ball and find the net with a neat finish despite suspicions of offside. The goal must have done his confidence a power of good. Though he was head and shoulders above the rest on loan at Barnsley last season, there remain serious doubts as to whether the player not so long ago regarded as our Michael Owen can truly cut it at the highest level.

Two minutes after Chopra's first senior goal for the club, N'Zogbia's deflected cross looped into the net - Shearer made absolutely certain, and with Wor Jackie's record to chase you can bet he'll be claiming it.

Two goals in the opening six minutes suggested it was going to be a pleasant stroll in the sunshine, and that's how the players started to treat it, allowing Dubnica back into the game. Marian Adam struck the post, and Harper was called upon to make three fine saves. Ultimately, however, he was unable to keep the Slovakian side at bay, Lukas Tesak scoring with a header shortly before half-time.

In a second half of little incident, Milner continued to look sharp and dangerous. Following a clever run through the Dubnica defence he cracked a shot against the post, but soon afterwards got his just desserts, lobbing home 'keeper Pernis from 25 yards. Too often last season Milner failed to live up to his promise, especially in front of goal and when in excellent crossing positions. Perhaps this term he can start showing more often why we felt he was worth £5m - and why Leeds fans were so upset to see him sold off.

So, a solid if unspectacular start to the season, and a healthy lead to take into Saturday's second leg. Deportivo, Lazio and Marseille still lie in wait, though.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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