Newcastle 0 Partizan Belgrade 1 (AET; Agg: 1-1, Partizan win 4-3 on penalties)
Newcastle’s Champions League dreams went up in smoke as Partizan Belgrade gatecrashed their party in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at St James’ Park.
Ivica Iliev cancelled out Nolberto Solano’s first-leg strike five minutes after the break as the Serbian champions gradually took control of a tie they could, and perhaps should, have won in normal time.
United rode their luck in extra-time as well, although substitute Jermaine Jenas passed up a golden opportunity to win it, and Partizan keeper Ivica Kralj somehow kicked a last-ditch Alan Shearer free-kick off the line.
But the real drama came in the penalty shoot-out when, after Shearer, Kieron Dyer and Jonathan Woodgate had missed with their side’s first three attempts, Shay Given saved from Nikola Malbasa and then saw Milan Stojanoski fire over.
Shola Ameobi, Lomana LuaLua and Jermaine Jenas all converted, but when Aaron Hughes missed at 3-3, Milivoje Cirkovic calmly slotted home his side’s seventh kick to clinch victory.
Partizan become the first ever side from Serbia to make the Champions League group stages, while Newcastle were left to reflect on the loss of a £10million cash windfall, a second successive taste of the European big time and the scant consolation of a place in the UEFA Cup.
The match proved a landmark for Gary Speed, Nolberto Solano and Shay Given, who all passed Rob Lee’s club record of 27 appearances in Europe, but that was simply a sub-plot to a night which meant much, much more to United.
Sir Bobby Robson sent out his troops for the 200th time since he succeeded Ruud Gullit under no illusion that the game would be as tough as any of the previous 199, and he was to be proved absolutely correct.
Partizan arrived with Stojanoski, the man who almost snatched a late equaliser at the Partizan Stadium a fortnight ago, surprisingly employed as a sweeper, and despite a few uncomfortable moments, the ploy was largely successful before the break.
With Taribo West mauling Shearer throughout and just about getting away with it, United enjoyed plenty of possession, but rarely managed to create the kind of openings they needed to make the pressure count.
Ameobi, deputising in attack for the injured Craig Bellamy, headed straight at keeper Kralj on four minutes and then looped another effort just over 22 minutes later.
But the massed ranks of Partizan defenders held firm until 14 minutes before the break when, after Speed had carved a path to goal, Solano hammered a shot towards goal where Kralj managed to beat the ball away and Nenad Djordjevic did just enough to prevent Ameobi heading the rebound in.
Shearer helped a 37th-minute Woodgate header over the bar and Igor Duljaj did superbly to block a Dyer effort two minutes later to frustrate the Magpies once again.
For their part, Partizan attacked swiftly on the counter without ever really looking like breaking through until first-half injury time when Malbasa found acres of space on the left and sent in a cross which just evaded Andrija Delibasic in front of goal.
Robson sent out his side after the break knowing that if they could preserve their clean sheet, they would be in the Champions League, but their safety net was cut down within five minutes of the restart.
The United rearguard was completely undone by Albert Nadj’s clever flick to Sasa Ilic, and when he squared the ball for Iliev 10 yards out, he simply had to side-foot his shot into the empty net to level the aggregate score.
Newcastle’s response was to panic, and they could quite easily have conceded on a number of occasions as they abandoned any resemblance of composure as the half wore on.
Ameobi wasted a golden opportunity to equalise on the night when instead of heading a Shearer cross towards goal, he took the ball on his chest and shot into the side-netting.
But Partizan sensed an opportunity, and they went close on 70 minutes when Iliev saw a long-range effort deflected past Given’s right post and then Djordjevic headed wastefully over at the back post from the resulting corner.
West volleyed high and wide after Shearer could only help a 79th-minute Iliev corner beyond the far post, and the home fans were on the edge of their seats as the minutes ticked away.
Newcastle, who replaced Hugo Viana with Laurent Robert five minutes from, time threw men forward in the search for an equaliser.
But it was Given who found himself called upon once again at the death to keep out Malbasa’s long-range effort and take the tie into extra-time.
The home side finally built up some impetus and Ameobi was just inches away from converting a 102th-minute Robert cross.
Jenas, though, should have scored within moments of the start of the second period when he headed wide from Aaron Hughes’ inch-perfect cross.
Kralj managed to kick Shearer’s injury-time free-kick away to take the tie to a shoot-out, and it was the visitors who held their nerve the better to claim a famous victory.