Bobby Robson heaped praise on his “lanky Bambi” after Shola Ameobi rekindled Newcastle’s Champions League hopes in Germany.
The 21-year-old striker, whose gangly frame in his younger days prompted the manager to liken him to the cartoon character, was asked to fill the boots of the suspended Alan Shearer, and did not let manager Sir Bobby Robson down as his fired home a double inside 16 minutes to put Bayer Leverkusen to the sword.
Strike partner Lomana LuaLua, handed his chance as Craig Bellamy joined Shearer in the sinbin, also got his name on the scoresheet with 32 minutes gone to make Brazilian Franca’s strike irrelevant.
Both men are likely to find themselves back on the bench at Leeds United on Saturday as Shearer and Bellamy resume their partnership, but Ameobi’s display in particular came as the perfect 70th birthday gift for his manager.
“I’m pleased with him,” said Robson. “He’s a player for the future, he’s 21 and he’s going to be very difficult to handle.
“He took his two goals very well and I think he’s got a good future. He faded at the end – he’s got a slight back injury which didn’t help him – but other than that, he’s fine.
“He did very well at Barcelona and two goals last night, he’s shown great promise.”
Klaus Toppmoller’s untimely departure as Leverkusen boss on Sunday thrust youth team coach Thomas Horster into the spotlight, but it was a miserable start for the 46-year-old as United took the game by the scruff of the neck and, despite an anxious spell immediately after the break, ran out worthy winners.
Robson was again quick to play down his birthday, but he could hardly have enjoyed a much more pleasant evening as his side breathed new life into their European campaign.
A similar result when the Germans visit St James’ Park next Wednesday will leave them with everything to play for in their remaining two Group A games, especially if Barcelona can complete a double over Inter Milan in Italy on the same night following last night’s 3-0 success at the Nou Camp.
But for the moment, the Magpies will reflect upon a job well done after extending their unbeaten run to six matches.
“It’s very nice to win, but it’s for the club, it’s for our supporters, it’s not really personal for me,” Robson said. “Our early play won us the game basically.
“The idea was to try to get a good start. We were conscious that they had lost five consecutive games which, I think, can be very painful, and we didn’t really want to allow them to get some cohesion, some rhythm, some confidence in their early play.
“The message was to try to get off to a bright start, and we did it. The two young players, Shola and LuaLua, did very well.
“They haven’t played a lot of first-team football, so we knew at round about 70 minutes or 75 minutes they would tire, which they did. But their early play got us the goals.
“Bayer were a little bit nervous and unfortunately for them, they just got off to the worst possible start.”