Newcastle United: 5 Takeaways from the Magpies' Europa League Win
It's been 44 years since Newcastle United has garnered any silverware.
But the way the Magpies have been playing, that streak may not last much longer.
With an exquisite penalty kick by Shola Ameobi propelling them past Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv, Newcastle now advance to the round of 16 in the Europa League.
But if Alan Pardew's men can continue their exceptional defensive play, Eto'o won't be able to do enough damage to keep Newcastle from advancing to the quarterfinals.
Tim Krul Is World Class
While Newcastle's defense has struggled mightily for stretches throughout the 2012-13 campaign, Tim Krul has been a rock between the posts.
In his seven years with the club, this was one of his most impressive performances.
While enjoying a relatively easy first half, the action picked up for Krul after Shola Ameobi's goal from a penalty in the 64th minute.
In the 69th minute, Metalist Kharkiv sub Willian took a quality chance in the box that was well saved by Krul, who quickly recognized the danger and came forward to swat the ball away.
Seven minutes later, Krul managed to save not one, not two, but three consecutive shots from Metalist, with the final save on a volley from Jonathan Cristaldo being a highlight-worthy dive.
Not all news was good news, as Krul seemed to take a serious and ridiculous knock from Cristaldo (who would be booked) in the 87th minute and according to the Evening Chronicle's Lee Ryder left the stadium on crutches.
Whether he will play against Southampton remains to be seen, but if he does, look for Krul to tally another clean sheet for Newcastle on Sunday.
January Recruits Have Started Brilliantly
Masked by the heroics from Tim Krul and the stinging penalty kick of Shola Ameobi were the performances of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haïdara, starting for the first time in their respective primary positions.
Both Yanga-Mbiwa, playing next to Fabricio Coloccini as a centre back, and Haïdara, playing as a left back, excelled defensively, preventing a tough core of Metalist Kharkiv strikers from getting anything going through the first hour of play.
Both Yanga-Mbiwa and Haïdara may have trouble breaking into the Magpies' first XI before the end of the season, but it is clear the depth of today's and the skill of tomorrow's defense seem to be in order with the quality of the two Frenchmen.
With Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, and Mathieu Debuchy having already made their presence known in Premier League matches, all five of Newcastle's French signings in the January transfer window have proven their worth, at least to this point.
Whether or not these players will wear down over the course of the next few months of their rookie Premier League campaign remains to be seen, but there is a great deal of promise for each and every new recruit.
Newcastle Are Physically Tough
On a night in which there were too many fouls to count and many more that weren't counted, Newcastle needed to hang tough and fight the urge to self-referee in order to realize their full match potential.
They made it through, almost in one piece.
Shola Ameobi provided strength in the box for most of the match, and the likes of Vurnon Anita and Moussa Sissoko in the middle of the pitch refused to bow to the physically aggressive play of Metalist's midfield.
However, injuries seemed destined to occur at some point in the match, and in quick succession Tim Krul and Yohan Cabaye received knocks to the ankle and knee respectively, making for a painful final 10 minutes.
Questions may be asked about Alan Pardew's decision to leave some of his star players on the pitch the full 90 minutes, but with every player having to work incredibly hard all match long, it would be difficult to say which players were the most in need of being substituted.
Even Pardew himself got involved in the physicality towards the end of the match.
As Yohan Cabaye came off the pitch in the 86th minute, Metalist Kharkiv defender Fininho chased after him, yelling what could only be the sweetest of pleasantries. Pardew then yanked Cabaye away, and even the worst of lip-readers could plainly see he told Fininho to "F--- off."
Say what you want about the man, but he has no problem with sticking up for his players.
Goal-Scoring Remains an Issue
As much reason as there is for the Toon Army to be excited, there still is one elephant in the room to confront.
If it weren't for a disastrous miscommunication between Metalist centre back Papa Gueye and goalkeeper Oleksandr Goryainov that led to a Newcastle penalty, the Magpies may not have scored at all in their two-legged Europa League fixture.
Excuses can be made, with the strongest being that Papiss Cisse had two goals controversially disallowed in the first leg of the competition.
However, sometimes results have to be taken at face value.
Alan Pardew knows this, as no amount of blaming injuries and European matches can absolve the gaffer from leading his club only two spots from the relegation zone to this point in the season.
With French international Hatem Ben Arfa set to return within the week, the problem may be partially solved.
But assuming Pardew chooses to place Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran on the wings, who at this point is the best option as a striker?
Consistency issues have plagued both Shola Ameobi (except in Europe) and Papiss Cisse, with the former's pace leaving something to be desired and the latter entirely unable to tell whether or not he is onside.
One of the two men must step up in the coming weeks if Newcastle hope to continue their impressive overall form of late.
Winning on the Road Is No Longer Impossible
Up until January 29, Newcastle hadn't won a single Premier League fixture on the road.
Less than a month later, they've picked up two.
After an impressive win at Villa Park to cap off a successful January, the Magpies have now traversed into much more treacherous territory and came home with a victory.
In the first leg of their round of 32 matchup, Newcastle fans received a glimpse into a radical sect of Metalist Kharkiv fans (known as Metalist Ultras) who posted racist and homophobic posters all over St. James Park and the surrounding area.
Heading into Kharkiv, the Shields Gazette reported that things were a little rougher for the Toon Army in the Ukraine.
While it would be unfair to align all Metalist supporters with such maliciousness, needless to say it was not a welcoming environment.
Undaunted by their surroundings, the Magpies controlled the match from start to finish, achieving exactly what was necessary to advance in the competition.
In the round of 16, Newcastle will have to travel even farther for the away match than the Ukraine, with a long flight to Makhachkala in Russia on the horizon.
But if their focus remains intact as it did in Kharkiv, a quarterfinal appearance in the Europa League might not be far away.