Bordeaux fear a grounded Newcastle will come out fighting tonight. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports from France
WE’VE had injuries, suspension and bad fortune – now even the elements seem to be conspiring against Newcastle United.
Away-day disappointment has been a feature of the Magpies’ campaign but it took on a fresh twist yesterday as snow grounded the team on the Tyneside tarmac for four hours.
A two-hour hop over the channel to the south west of France became a long slog which resulted in United touching down late into the French night.
There wasn’t much Alan Pardew and his youthful squad could do about it as blizzards lashed their scheduled flight.
Players took to Twitter to share their snaps of the stationary plane while stewardesses wheeled out the dinner which was supposed to be served mid-flight.
It was all a little bit farcical, especially for the Bordeaux officials who were waiting for their visitors to show up to the pre-match press conference.
Eventually it was cancelled – Uefa have a cut-off point of 7.30pm apparently – and it was left to Bordeaux’s coach Francis Gillot (pictured above) to offer up answers to a strikingly similar set of queries his Newcastle counterpart would have had to answer.
Gillot is regarded as one of France’s leading managers and when The Journal asked him whether Newcastle’s delay would play into the hands of his young team, he erred on the side of caution.
He said: “From my experience – and especially as a player – usually you do better in the match. It scares me.”
After that, Gillot was confronted with a charge which will be familiar to most who have been interested in Newcastle’s Europa League campaign – that of not taking the competition seriously enough.
The Bordeaux boss was asked whether supporters who pay will be left short-changed by a game contested between two reserve teams.
He said not, and pointed to a fixture list which has his team facing three important games in the space of seven days next week.
Against that backdrop, he said it was not important whether Bordeaux nicked first place or not in a nip-and-tuck Group D.
He added: “Our first goal was to come out of the qualifying round against Red Star (Belgrade), we did that.
“Now the qualification – whether we finish first or second – is not very important.
“I know we will face tough games and have to play tough teams in the last round of the Europa League whatever.
“There are difficult teams in the next round wherever we finish.
“It is important to win tonight and I will learn whether I can trust my team both individually and as a group.
“I expect my team to finish first. Why not?”
The squad which eventually took off from Newcastle included a host of inexperienced players including Mehdi Abeid, Romain Amalfitano, Conor Newton and Yven Moyo.
Adam Campbell and Nile Ranger could get the nod up front.
If the inexperienced team has Newcastle supporters fearing the worst, Bordeaux’s side is likely to be just as callow.
They are missing goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso, Henrique, Benoit Tremoulinas, Yoan Gouffran, Jaroslav Plasil, Abdou Traore, Ludovic Obraniak and strike Jussie.
Gillot said: “I will play young players. I let some youth play against Montpellier.
“I will give the captain’s task to Gregory Sertic, who may be younger than some of the 30-year-olds in this team but he is still important and I hope by giving him this responsibility he will take on the leadership role.
“I will let players start the game and I will also bring some on.”
Having been billed as the biggest threat in Newcastle’s group, Bordeaux were strangely ineffectual when they journeyed to St James’ Park.
They have since bounced back well and sit sixth in the league, partly thanks to a five-match winning run which saw them vanquish Joey Barton’s Marseille along with their crucial defeat of Maritimo.
Gillot took issue with the idea his team were well beaten on their visit to England.
He added: “The 3-0 result was heavier than I thought it should be.”
United eventually arrived in France late last night, and they received at least some good news.
Uefa rules state a team must hold a press briefing before the game and fines can be levied against any club which fails to meet those requirements – but there is likely to be no punishment for the Magpies.