Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Summer Opener Has United Sweating

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Summer Opener Has United Sweating

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

In a recent report in The Economist, Oslo was found to have overtaken Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world.

Should Newcastle fail to prosper in the Norwegian capital this weekend, the price to be paid will be suitably high.

Glenn Roeder's team can ill-afford to return from Scandinavia with anything other than a victory.

The Intertoto Cup might be much maligned in certain circles, but its importance to United's future cannot be underestimated.

Given that the forthcoming third round, second leg meeting at the Arasen Stadium will only be the second game of the club's campaign, it is no great leap of faith to describe it as the biggest fixture of Newcastle's season to date. Over the next 10 months, it is unlikely Roeder's players will play a match of much greater significance.

More important than the first outing of Roeder's interim reign, a meeting with Portsmouth on February 4 in which defeat would have pushed a sinking club closer to the relegation trapdoor? The Newcastle manager would not say as much on Saturday evening, but the truth is obvious.

Rarely can so much have hung on one game at this stage of the summer.

European qualification is the prize, but the implications for the victorious and vanquished are much more far-reaching.

The outcome of this weekend's game in the north-western suburbs of Oslo will shape Newcastle's campaign in so many ways. Without the pull of Continental competition, Roeder will struggle to persuade his chief transfer targets to join him at St James's Park and without the financial rewards of Uefa Cup participation for a second-successive season, the resources available to him will be under threat.

These facts are not lost on a manager whose carefully-drawn blueprint for the forthcoming season now hinges on 90 minutes in Norway. That Newcastle need goals, a commodity that will be in short supply until a dreadfully weak strikeforce has been strengthened, is a concern.

Roeder and his players will go to Oslo in bullish mood, confident of overcoming LillestrAm, optimistic that on August 10, they will be in the preliminary stages of a Uefa Cup campaign. Yet the evidence of Saturday's first-leg game on Tyneside suggests this is a match too close to call.

A 1-1 draw was not the best result, yet neither was it the worst. Given that the pre-match talk was of a clean sheet and a lead, it is a scoreline United would not have considered acceptable before the game started. Given that the home side were fortunate not to trail by three goals at half-time, it was one greeted with satisfaction at the final whistle.

In a game of both positives and negatives, it must be noted that while a LillestrAm team well into their stride have already played 12 league games this season, this was Newcastle's first outing since May 7. …

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