Newcastle United's Champions League dreams are disrupted by Reading

A lucky draw, burgled by an equaliser that should not have been allowed, is hardly the most convincing platform but, emboldened by his new eight-year contract, Alan Pardew is speaking of Newcastle breaking into the Champions' League elite.

Pardew pointed out that his team were running fourth in the Premier League last season with two games to go and that they have been strengthened during the summer. It all sounded quite plausible until reality intruded. Newcastle had just been outplayed by opponents who kicked off bottom of the table, and who are still without a league win. Reading deserved that first victory, which would have been theirs had not the officials denied them by letting Demba Ba's late handled goal stand.

Newcastle were second best throughout and need to improve if they are to overcome Bordeaux in the Europa League on Thursday and Manchester United at home on Sunday. Pardew spoke about the time his extended contract allows him to bring on the club's younger players, but he is nobody's fool and said: "It doesn't mean I'll be here eight years. I've got to keep winning games." It would be as well to remember that.

Newcastle have had nine managers in as many years and Chris Hughton, sacked as a reward for gaining promotion in 2010, will not be alone in seeing the irony of his successor's new security. Derek Llambias, the managing director said: "If you look at clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have shown that stability gives you the best platform for success, and that is the model we wish to emulate here." Better late than never, but too late for some.

Reading, for the first time since their promotion, looked the part as a Premier League team. They led twice with handsomely fashioned goals from the fit-again Jimmy Kébé and Noel Hunt, both set up by man of the match Jobi McAnuff, and were horribly unlucky that neither the referee, Andre Marriner, nor his assistants spotted the illegitimacy of Ba's second equaliser.

The Senegal striker had scored an outstanding first, volleying home Cheik Tioté's exquisite long pass from 16 yards, but the strike with which he took his tally for the season to six goals in as many league appearances was executed not with his head, as Marriner believed, but with his right hand.

Ba has now scored 22 in 40 League games since arriving on a free transfer from West Ham, and has to be one of the most astute signings of recent times. In contrast his co-striker, Papiss Cissé, has still to get off the mark in the league, where only two Newcastle players, Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa, have scored to date.

Pardew preferred to focus on his young players, such as Shane Ferguson, the 21-year-old winger from Northern Ireland, who got on as a substitute. The manager said: "He's pushing hard. It's hard to get into the team and I'm really pleased with him. He's been terrific. He has a natural left-footed delivery that we haven't got in the squad apart from him. That's why he's important."

Pardew also chose to "Big" up (it's what he calls him) Gaël Bigirimana, a 19-year-old midfielder from Burundi, who was making his first start in the league since his £1m transfer from Coventry. "He's got a great future with us. He was up for the battle and made a good few tackles. I thought he was excellent."

Others to look out for were Sammy Ameobi, 20, ("e's going to have a big say in our season") and Adam Campbell, a 17-year-old striker with "great potential".

Man of the match Jobi McAnuff (Reading)

Powered by article was written by Joe Lovejoy at Madejski Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 30th September 2012 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © mickyb59

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