UEFA Cup: Newcastle frustrated by French

Newcastle's Uefa Cup hopes are in the balance after a goalless draw in France against Troyes in the first leg of the Intertoto Cup final.s

Newcastle's Uefa Cup hopes are in the balance after a goalless draw in France against Troyes in the first leg of the Intertoto Cup final.

Bobby Robson's side had to battle all the against an impressive French outfit, who made light of the torrential rain which soaked the Stade de L'Aube pitch all night to thrill a crowd of 10,414.

But for all the home side dominated the possession and created the clearer chances, they simply could not find a way past keeper Shay Given, who pulled off three outstanding saves.

The Irishman kept out close-range efforts from Nicolas Gousse and Farid Ghazi within the first seven minutes of the game and then denied Gousse a second time a minute before the break to frustrate the home side.

But it was not a one-man show as defender Nikos Dabizas and midfielders Rob Lee and Gary Speed led the way with performances of immense character.

Robson fielded the same 11 which started in the 3-1 semi-final, second leg victory over 1860 Munich at St James' - and that meant a second game in six days for 35-year-old Lee after his four-month lay-off with a knee injury.

Teenager Shola Ameobi and Craig Bellamy were again paired up in attack with Lomana Lua Lua held in reserve on the bench.

Troyes boss Alain Perrin named influential playmaker Sladjan Djukic only among his substitutes after Italian midfielder Fabio Celestini shook off the injury which kept him out of Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Metz.

Newcastle arrived in France on the back of four straight victories in the competition, but from the off, they were left in little doubt that this was an entirely different proposition.

Robson knew Troyes would try to play football, but even he must have been surprised at just how slick they were as wing-backs Gharib Amzine and Luciano Zavagno took the game by the scruff of the neck.

Indeed, things could have looked very black indeed for the Magpies with just seven minutes gone after they were torn apart twice in quick succession.

That they survived was down to the positioning of Given, who pulled off point-blank saves from first Gousse and then Ghazi.

The French side were irresistible in the early stages and it took all the character of experienced campaigners Lee, Speed and Dabizas to drag United back into a game which was rapidly slipping away from them.

Ameobi got a rare sight of goal on 18 minutes when his power took him past defender Sekou Berthe only for keeper Tony Heurtebis to block his effort, and Lee could not take a Solano pass in his stride as he surged into the penalty area 11 minutes before the break.

But although Newcastle managed to restrict their opponents to a handful of long-range strikes, they were fortunate that Gousse just failed to connect with a Medhi Leroy cross and again had Given to thank seconds before the break when he rushed from his line to deny Gousse once again.

Troyes continued to dominate after the restart but largely without the clear openings they had forged before the break as United shut up shop.

Gousse scuffed a shot harmlessly wide and it took a fine block from Robbie Elliott to deny Ghazi as he turned up on the end of a slick passing move on 61 minutes. But the visitors scrapped for every ball as they refused to let go of their Uefa Cup dream on a night when they were under the cosh for long periods.

Bellamy and Ameobi kept making their runs, although they were too often isolated and found themselves battling against massed blue shirts with little support.

But their side was doing enough to stay on level terms, a fact which was recognised by Perrin as time ran down when he replaced Gousse, Leroy and Boutal with Djukic, Jerome Rothen and Rafik Saifi.

The Tynesiders found themselves under pressure once again 12 minutes from time when Dabizas was penalised for a foul on Saifi 25 yards out, but Ghazi blazed the free-kick high and wide.

Troyes could have snatched victory at the end as first Djukic took aim and then Saifi bore down on goal, but Dabizas blocked the first effort and then did enough to force the second wide.

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