Newcastle thought about signing Felix Nmecha in the summer before spending double on £52million Sandro Tonali. While the latter awaits a 10-month ban for illegal gambling, the former looks a sure thing as Dortmund’s replacement for Jude Bellingham.
The Germany midfielder, raised in Manchester and once an England youth international, was the game’s outstanding player and his goal was the difference on a rainswept night that brought Eddie Howe and Newcastle back to earth with a bump and a splash.
In the week when Kevin Keegan told Howe his team could win the Champions League, this defeat has booted them from the summit of their group and into the Europa League slot.
They do not yet have a mountain to climb, but the peak over which they threatened to disappear after a 4-1 thumping of Paris Saint-Germain looks a little hazy now, especially with trips to Dortmund and Paris next up.
There is touch of Howe about Dortmund boss Edin Terzic – intelligent, calm and engaging. We should not be surprised to see him in this country at some point in the future. He did a job on one of the Premier League’s finest here, and his use of Nmecha was the game-changer.
Nick Pope pulled off a series of first-half saves to thwart Dortmund forward Donyell Malen
Man City academy graduate Felix Nmecha opened his account for Dortmund with the winner
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Formerly of Manchester City, the 23-year-old has been earmarked as Bellingham’s heir after arriving from Wolfsburg for £25m. Three years Bellingham’s senior but not, as one may expect, light years behind the Real Madrid star.
There is an immediate likeness, too, an ability to ghost from midfield without trace, and that knack certainly haunted Newcastle.
His goal in the 45th minute was the perfect example, hiding in plain sight inside the penalty area as he waited for a cross from team-mate Nico Schlotterbeck. The finish was also Bellingham-esque, opening his body before sweeping home with the confidence of a far more seasoned pro.
‘He’s a player that we looked at and really liked but yeah, he’s obviously at Dortmund,’ said Howe.
You signed Tonali instead? ‘It’s never as simple as that,’ he replied.
Newcastle bought Tonali from Milan for nights like this. Since the start of last season, no other midfielder has played more minutes in the Champions League. That record will expire when the Italian is suspended this week.
He was introduced in the second half but there was no romantic send-off. Like his team-mates, he soon ran into a yellow wall.
To think, there was a feature in the matchday programme detailing how to beat Dortmund, four pages of tactical analysis. Perhaps Newcastle will find holes in the dressing-room wall where the Bundesliga outfit pinned that as motivation.
Edin Terzic’s clever use of Felix Nmecha proved to be the game-changer on Wednesday night
Gregor Kobel pulled off a brilliant save from Wilson from close range to keep Newcastle at bay
Anthony Gordon impressed for home side and was the main attacking threat for Howe’s team
PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH FACTS
Newcastle (4-3-3): Pope 7.5; Trippier 6.5, Lascelles 6, Schar 6.5, Burn 6; Longstaff 6 (Tonali 65, 6), Guimaraes 6, Joelinton 6 (Murphy 65, 6) ; Almiron 6.5, Isak 6 (Wilson 15, 6), Gordon 7
Subs: Dubravka, Karius, Dummett, Tonali, Targett, Hall, Livramento, Murphy, Willock
Manager: Eddie Howe 6
Dortmund (4-3-3) Kobel 7.5; Wolf 7, Schlotterbeck 8, Hummels 7, Bensebaini 6.5; Sabitzer 6.5, Emre Can 6 (Ozcan 42, 6.5), Nmecha 8.5; Reus 7 (Adeymi 63), Fullkrug 6.5, Malen 7.5
Subs: Meyer, Lotka, Reyna, Haller, Moukoko, Sule, Blank, Bynoe-Gittens
Scorer: Nmecha 45
Manager: Edin Terzic 8
Ref: A Dias 7
Without a goal and with just one point in the Group of Death beforehand, this has breathed life into their campaign.
For the second time in this competition there was tension on the streets of the city in the hours before kick-off. Last time, PSG’s supporters showed more fight than their players.
Dortmund’s fans marched on the stadium in equally combative mood – bottles and punches were thrown – but, by contrast to PSG, their team was up for the battle. Those pre-match clashes were all a far cry from friendly exchanges earlier in the day, when Geordies joked that every bar stool in town was already taken by a German towel.
But how everyone inside St James’ wished they had one of those amid a rain that caught the wind and seemed to swirl continuously around the ground. There was an element of chaos to the climate, and so that was the case on the pitch.
This was no cagey group-stage affair, cage fighting more like. They traded blow after blow and shot after shot. Dortmund’s Donyell Malen ran clear inside 90 seconds and Nick Pope saved with his feet. Newcastle blazed down the other end and Anthony Gordon’s curler was shovelled clear by Gregor Kobel.
On 10 minutes, Pope’s double save from Malen’s low blast and Niclas Fullkrug’s follow-up somehow kept the game goalless. Newcastle again retaliated and Gordon should have scored when freed by Alexander Isak but he shot into the chest of Kobel.
Dortmund, though, were the better team, and that was never part of the script imagined by those with PSG fresh in the memory. The home fans were the 12th man that night.
Howe’s team were brought back down to earth with a result that sees them drop to third in the group behind PSG and Dortmund
They were left sodden and subdued as the visitors took control here. Their mood was not improved by the sight of Isak being forced off with a leg injury inside 15 minutes.
Howe shook his head and he was bewildered still further when Dortmund led. Centre-back Schlotterbeck used his brawn to rob Gordon before setting off on an unlikely dash forward, pulling back for Nmecha to steer first time into the bottom corner.
Shooting downhill towards the Gallowgate in the second half – Newcastle needed that as a jump-start – they would have been level just before the hour if not for Kobel extending a leg to block’s Callum Wilson’s prod. Those behind the goal, and in the dugout, were already up in celebration.
They were back on their feet when Wilson clipped the crossbar with a header and Gordon’s deflected shot did the same. Dortmund, though, had raised the bar. They were deserved winners.
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