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Newcastle stumped as controversy reigns

Frustration is defined as: "The feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something." Consequently, it was Newcastle's inability to change two incorrect decisions by two assistant referees that left them frustrated and meant they depart for Kharkiv next week at a stalemate with opponents Metalist.

A bright start by both sides saw early chances fashioned on what promised to be a contrasting night of styles; Newcastle's French-themed physicality polarised by Metalist's South American-tinged intricacy.

Yet with just under half an hour gone, the first moment of controversy struck. A neat interchange on the left touchline with Moussa Sissoko and Gabriel Obertan saw the former clean through on goal. As he collected the ball and squared it for Papiss Cisse to bundle home, the assistant stood still with his flag in the air, much to the bemusement of Alan Pardew - replays showing Sissoko was onside by a considerable margin and that the goal was legitimate in its conception.

Move forward to the 71st minute and again a contestable call; admittedly far tighter than the first instance. This time it was Cisse who was adjudged to be offside from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's dangerous delivery.

While neither were the correct decision, it represented what was a difficult evening for young referee Tom Harald Hagen and his team. As personal skirmishes littered the field, what Metalist felt was rough housing, the Magpies perceived as play-acting; both having suitable evidence to cite in their respective cases.

Booed from the field at full-time, there was a look of nervousness amongst Hagen and his team as they departed - Alan Pardew gesturing towards one of his assistants that they had cost his side a two goal lead. Yet after the match, despite being frustrated, the 51-year-old remained somewhat diplomatic: "Both goals were onside. I thought the referee was excellent tonight, the rest of his game was sound. I thought it was a game played in a good spirit," he said.

He also shared sympathy with his striker. Often a jovial character, Cisse will leave the game frustrated he did not depart with at least one goal to his name. Missing a trio of good chances, culminating in a diving header in injury time, his exasperated expression echoed the feelings of many on Tyneside.

Ever the optimist, Pardew preferred to believe the flurry of missed chances and ruled out brace would elicit a positive response from the number 9 who took so effortlessly to the Premier League this time last year: "I genuinely felt like when decisions like that go against you you have fire in your belly. We'll take that into the second leg," he said.

Despite the controversial theme of the evening, credit must still go to Newcastle's opponents. Producing the kind of quality that explains why they sit highly amongst the Ukrainian Premier League, Metalist's unity was symbolised by their pre-match huddle and cemented by the neat interchanges found throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Having not played a competitive game since their last Europa League tie in early December, they looked sharp - Jonathan Cristaldo's first half header arguably their best chance of the evening.

With Pardew keen to praise the quality of his opposition, it was clear to see that the 1-1 draw Metalist had earned against Whitley Bay in a warm up game on Sunday was somewhat misleading. Pardew's opposite number was mutual in his admiration: "Newcastle is a very good team," coach Myron Markevych said. "I'm just wondering why Newcastle is not amongst the best 10."

Switching effortlessly between Ukrainian and English in his post match interview, Markevych displayed the same ease of transition that his team had on the pitch. Catching Newcastle on the break several times, Pardew must be wary of its presence in the second leg, with Metalist's nigh three-month hiatus easily serving as mitigation for why they could not find the net.

As both men looked to introduce substitutes, it was Newcastle's who had the greater impact. Sylvain Marveaux netted the club's last goal in the Europa League against Maritimo, and should have done better with a bouncing half volley inside the Metalist penalty box.

For the visitors, another pair of South Americans joined the fray in the shape of Jaja and Willian. With the latter not quite as impressive as his more well-known namesake, his biggest contribution was a rather embarrassing dive in the final throes of the evening. Hagen chose to book him for dramatics that strived to reach the level of amateur.

Rating his sides chances in the second leg at "50-50", Markevych felt he had witnessed an even encounter; a fair belief given the statistical breakdown. For Newcastle, they can take pride from the fact they more than matched a side who previously bested Bayer Leverkusen and finished top of their group.

Hinting that his side will look to adopt a more counter-attacking style when they visit the Ukraine next week, the tie now sits delicately poised like a chess match, something which was not lost on Pardew: "My next move is Pawn to Bishop four," he joked with a confused translator, proceeding to offer him a warm smile and a handshake. Still with many pieces to play, whether he will remain as chipper if his side depart the competition this time next week remains to be seen.


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