Young guns deliver perfect gift to Robson

Bayer Leverkusen 1 Newcastle 3

The England U-21 international and his Congalese strike partner took over from the suspended Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy, and were charged with the task of firing their side to a first Champions League Group A victory over Bayer Leverkusen.

They did not let Robson down, with Ameobi scoring twice inside 16 minutes, before LuaLua added a third before half-time in an eventual 3-1 victory.

Ameobi, 21, struck twice within the first 16 minutes to give the Magpies the upper hand, and although Brazilian Franca gave the home side hope by reducing the deficit on 26 minutes, LuaLua restored his side’s two-goal cushion with a third 13 minutes before the break.

The home side, who went into the game on the back of a five-game losing Bundesliga run, lined up with Hanno Balitsch protecting the back four.

But it was he who gifted United their first chance with a second-minute foul on Ameobi 23 yards out. However, in the absence of Shearer, Frenchman Laurent Robert took charge of the free-kick and blasted his left-foot effort high over.

But Newcastle had to wait just three minutes longer to force their way into the lead after LuaLua mesmerised Cris and Pascal Ojigwe wide on the right before crossing for Ameobi to head unopposed past the helpless Butt from point-blank range and give his side the perfect start.

The Magpies were playing with supreme confidence, Kieron Dyer running the show from central midfield and the demoralised Germans struggling to regain their composure.

Leverkusen gradually started to play their way into the game, but clearly lacking in confidence, they did themselves few favours by conceding possession at regular intervals under little pressure.

And the visitors increased their lead on 16 minutes when Ameobi robbed Cris 35 yards out and after skipping past Thomas Kleine, fired low past Butt to give the 1,100 United fans at the BayArena even more to shout about.

But that goal came after Robson’s side got a swift reminder that there was still some distance to go. That came on 23 minutes when the impressive Basturk was the architect, using his trickery to find Jan Simak, who slipped in Franca to lift a shot over Shay Given and reduce the deficit.

After that the visitors found themselves under a period of sustained pressure and Andy O’Brien deflected a well-struck Neuville free-kick wide.

But United were presented with a chance to restore their two-goal lead 14 minutes before the break when Cris brought down Ameobi five yards outside his own penalty area, but this time Robert could not clear the defensive wall.

However, the Frechman atoned for his error within a minute when, after Olivier Bernard had capitalised on Neuville’s successful but fatal decision to keep the ball in play on the touchline, he delivered a cross which the unmarked LuaLua gleefully dispatched from close range.

Balitsch whistled a first-time volley wide of Given’s left post after Aaron Hughes had headed away another dangerous Basturk cross, and it took an excellent block by skipper Gary Speed to keep out Cris’ powerful header from a 38th-minute Neuville corner.

Leverkusen were living dangerously as the half-time whistle approached, only a last-ditch lunge by Cris preventing Dyer from squaring to LuaLua in front of the unguarded net, while Speed saw a shot deflected over the crossbar by Kleine.

Bayer thought they had dragged themselves into the game once again on 51 minutes when Brdaric headed home powerfully at the far post before an offside flag ended his celebrations.

Newcastle were struggling to gain possession as wave after wave of red shirts put their back four under intense pressure.

Simak was becoming a real thorn in United’s side as he exploited the space between central defenders O'Brien and Titus Bramble, and there was another scare for the visitors on 56 minutes.

Franca used his strength well to hold up the ball before improvising a back-heeled pass to Brdaric, but he fired woefully wide first time with just Given to beat.

Brdaric and Neuville, the men asked to provide width in attack behind Franca, were enjoying their best spell of the game and a young United side desperately needed the experience of 33-year-old Speed to steady the ship.

But with Robson exhorting his troops from the dug-out to regain their composure, they upped their work-rate and gradually started to make life more difficult for Leverkusen.

Even so, Given had to pull of a late save from Franca, punching his shot onto the bar, before the referee eventually blew the final whistle and Newcastle had their first points of the second phase.

BAYER LEVERKUSEN: Butt, Preuss, Cris, Simak, Basturk, Franca, Balitsch, Ojigwe, Brdaric, Neuville, Kleine.

NEWCASTLE: Given, O’Brien, Jenas, Dyer, Speed, Hughes, Bramble, LuaLua, Ameobi, Robert, Bernard.

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