Champions League: PSG 1 Newcastle United 1
Newcastle have waited 20 years to play again in the Champions League group stage and no part of any of their players was ready to bow out after five ties. After a night of high stress and drama, they live to fight another day in the Group of Death.
It should have been more. They were within minutes of a glorious victory that would have seen them seize control of their last-16 destiny ahead of the final tie at home to Milan.
It was a night when cool heads and lion hearts were required and Eddie Howe had them in abundance. His answer to the selection crisis that had deprived him of ten senior players? Simply to push his 11 starters through the entire game. There were times, as Paris Saint-Germain laid siege to their goal in the second-half, when the black-and-white stripes looked ready to drop. They did not.
The enterprise had come during an excellent first-half performance, Alexander Isak scoring their goal after a handling error by Gianluigi Donnarumma. Yes, Newcastle rode their luck, particularly in the closing stages when the ball just would not go in for PSG. And then it did.
Newcastle’s resistance was broken at the last in shattering fashion, an Ousmane Dembele cross hitting Tino Livramento in the side and ricocheting into the back of his arm. Penalty, said the VAR and the referee agreed. Kylian Mbappe scored. For Newcastle, it was brutally harsh.
It was definitely worth a rewind to the beginning of October and the reverse tie at St James’ Park because Newcastle’s thumping victory had framed this occasion. The atmosphere generated by the PSG ultras was always going to be hot. Their thirst for revenge, which several of the players had referenced, made it even more so. The Parisian media had painted the 4-1 as a humiliation.
PSG started with ferocious intensity and flirted with the breakthrough, making inroads up the right through Ousmane Dembélé and the overlapping Achraf Hakimi. Lee Kang-in had miscued a volley following a Dembélé cross – Fabián Ruiz slammed high on the second phase – when PSG created the first big chance.
What a move it was, Randal Kolo Muani getting Hakimi away with a lovely touch and the full-back crossing low for Mbappé, who arrived at breakneck pace; a magnificent and terrifying sight. Mbappé went with the back-heeled flick. Nick Pope blocked with his legs.
It did not take long for Newcastle to dig out a foothold, to show their composure on the ball, a desire to make their punches count. They would have given anything to be on this stage last season, during the long slog for a top four Premier League finish. They were in no mood to die wondering. Their fans could be heard – loudly – above the relentless drum beats and bellowed chants from the other end and they were in dreamland when Isak put them in front.
The striker had blown a gilt-edged chance on 12 minutes, which was the moment when the tide started to turn. It was Miguel Almirón who set him up, robbing Hakimi to cross low. Isak was there only to lift a first‑time shot high. He would not be so profligate the next time.
The buildup was all about the drive and confidence of Tino Livramento, the left-back getting away from three would-be challengers on the left-hand edge of the PSG area and just keeping on going, treading the line, further PSG players unable to lay a glove on him. He found Almirón, who cut back and shot and that was when Gianluigi Donnarumma endured his horror moment, allowing the ball to squirm from his grasp. Isak gobbled up the rebound.
Dembélé worked Pope on 32 minutes with a scuffed effort that was dribbling towards the corner and he banged a stoppage-time effort at Fabian Schär from Mbappé's cross but the remainder of the first half was most notable for the way that Newcastle enjoyed themselves.
They thrust out their chests and pinged their one-touch passes; PSG came to look worried and very much mortal. Isn’t Livramento supposed to be a right-back? And, yes, that really was the 17-year-old, Lewis Miley, looking as though he belonged at right midfield – close to Mbappé's orbit. It could even have been 2-0 when Isak almost got away from Milan Skriniar, who was the last man. Skriniar appeared to handle as he fell on the ball in the act of protecting it.
Howe’s XI was pretty much the only one he could have picked, such was the depth of his selection crisis. And the worry was what he had on the bench or rather what he did not have; his capacity to change the game. Managers are permitted to name 11 substitutes in this competition; Howe had seven. Two of them were goalkeepers, three more barely used teenagers from the academy. What did his starters have left in the second half?
Luis Enrique changed his strategy. PSG’s were less furious, more controlled. The idea was to pass Newcastle to death, to make them run, to drain them. “Sing your hearts out for the lads,” was the cry from the visiting enclosure.
PSG probed. Dembélé darted in on goal, getting away a toe-poked shot only Pope was there to block, the ball looping up for Mbappé, who fluffed the side-on volley. Newcastle’s formation came to look more like 4-5-1, although Anthony Gordon continued to carry a threat on the counter. He was fouled cynically by Skriniar when he looked to be through.
PSG squeezed. The drums beat louder. It felt as though the equaliser was coming. The substitute, Bradley Barcola had to score from an Mbappé cut-back only for Pope to block – again. Barcola dragged another chance wide and there were desperate PSG shouts for penalties. PSG would just about survive.
- Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date