SAMMY Ameobi thanked God for a first opportunity to shine at St James’ Park – and then promptly answered Alan Pardew’s prayers by pushing Newcastle United closer to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Pardew had promised that Europe would be the making of some of his younger players and it felt distinctly like Ameobi junior had arrived in the black and white consciousness when he departed to a standing ovation on 73 minutes.
Handed his full home debut by Pardew, Sammy made the most of his chance with a performance brimming with promise and ingenuity.
His divine back-heel and precise pass to tee up Gabriel Obertan’s 48th-minute winner ensured that a debut to remember had a defining moment too.
The importance of Obertan’s second goal of the Continental campaign should not be under-estimated.
Having won two out of two at St James’ Park, Newcastle are now three points clear and firmly in command of Group D and probably only require another four points to qualify for the last 32.
It may have been a slow burner, but Newcastle are certainly warming to their first appearance in this much-maligned rehash of Europe’s second-tier competition.
This was not a classic European night, but it was again enjoyable for a crowd that was bolstered by a cheap ticket deal.
It helped that Club Brugge were so well represented in the stadium, with some 3,000 fans trekking from Belgium to offer loud and lusty support to a team that proved resilient and robust. With a touch more ambition they might have got something out of the game but credit must go to a Newcastle team that, even without some big guns included, performed with poise and maturity.
Pardew’s big plan is to blood his younger players and at every turn so far they have responded. Haris Vuckic delivered the goal that sent Newcastle past Atromitos; Gael Bigirimana provided the poise to tip the midfield battle against Bordeaux in the Magpies’ favour and last night it was Ameobi junior who stepped up.
The natural exuberance which comes across on his Twitter account is evident in his playing style, which is loose and languid but laced with seriously impressive technique.
There is a confidence there, too, which probably prompted the delightful flick that preceded his standout moment in a game that was always going to settled by the odd goal.
His older brother has predicted that Sammy will go on to eclipse his achievements in the game but Newcastle improved when Shola came on in the second half.
He wrestled possession off Brugge in the run-up to the goal, but his yeomanry efforts were overshadowed by a goal that smacked of class.
A word for Obertan, too, who appears well suited to this competition. So often a peripheral figure in Premier League battle, the former Manchester United winger has arguably been Newcastle’s most potent weapon in the Europa League.
His goal was a great finish, beating Brugge’s Serbian goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic with an angled drive to top off another lively appearance.
Black-and-white historians were disappointed by Pardew’s selection, which left the older Ameobi brother on the bench, with 20-year-old Sammy given the right-wing berth and a licence to roam.
The Ameobis’ wait to become the third set of siblings to play for Newcastle goes on, but judging by the potency of Sammy’s attacking raids, it will surely not be too much longer before the young gun forces his way into regular contention. He was one of the major positives of a first half that was too close to call, and confirmed the accuracy of Pardew’s pre-match prediction that Brugge would be testing opponents for a starting XI that blended youth and experience.
Roared on by a sizeable travelling contingent that had spent most of the day drinking in the city’s various hostelries, the Jupiler Pro League leaders were looking to catch Newcastle on the break with pace and precision.
As early as the third minute it nearly succeeded as the lively Maxime Lestienne sent a fizzing drive that examined Steve Harper’s reflexes.
Brugge posted another warning shot when Vadis Odjidja fired high and wide into the Gallowgate.
In truth Newcastle dominated possession in the first half though and were unfortunate not to go into the interval ahead. Papiss Cisse, so disappointed not to start the derby, looked dangerous and was only denied the opening goal by a terrific stop Jorgacevic when he met Shane Ferguson’s cross with a bullet header.
The Serbian stopper pulled off an even better save to deny Cisse on the stroke of half-time after Gael Bigirimana flicked on an Obertan cross.
But pressure was building on the Belgians as the half-time break approached and Newcastle were to breach the visitors’ defence in spectacular style within minutes of the restart.
Obertan’s wonderful goal sent St James’ Park into raptures but there was disbelief a few minutes later when Carlos Bacca somehow conspired to nod over the bar from a few yards out.
Lestienne, who had appeared bright throughout, swept a wicked cross into the penalty area but Bacca misdirected his header and it bounced onto the pitch and over the bar.
Ameobi junior was then taken off – to a standing ovation – with Fabricio Coloccini sent on to add steel to Newcastle’s rearguard effort.
It paid off, with Brugge unable to fashion much in the way of clear chances.
Newcastle are heading for the knockout stages, and – it appears – the kids are alright.