In these first legs, it is all about acceptable results. You'd love a win, but a draw isn't the worst thing in the world. A loss could even be an ok thing, as long as the scoreline is close. Given the line-up that Newcastle sent out, conceding a goal or two (or four, as one commenter predicted in the game thread) seemed likely.
Instead, Newcastle slogged through an uneventful first half and played stalwart defense in the second half, and came out of Russia with a 0-0 draw with Anzhi Makhachkala.
Newcastle did not appear all that interested in offense in the first half. On the flip side, their Russian counterparts didn't seem all that pressed to score goals either. Only a long distance dipping shot near the end of the half tested keeper Rob Elliot. He managed to tip it over the bar and preserve the clean sheet.
The second half saw Anzhi press harder, looking for a goal or two that might make their trip Tyneside a little less stressful. But, Newcastle doubled down their dedication to defense and made life hard for the Russians. Possession surely tilted heavily in favor of Anzhi (57% according to ESPN), but they rarely held the ball in dangerous areas. Elliot was tested a few more times, but was up to the task. Though Elliot was not asked to do much, he stepped up when called upon and gave Newcastle a bit more confidence in his ability in goal until Tim Krul can return.
As the second half grew longer, Newcastle decided to gamble a bit. Perhaps this is where acceptable results come in. Pardew may have thought getting an away goal outweighed giving one up at this point, and the Magpies sent more people forward. Newcastle looked more dangerous in the second half, with Hatem Ben Arfa marking his return game with a golden opportunity. However, his chip shot lacked pace and was easily taken care of.
And so, Newcastle settled for a 0-0 draw, but I must think that they are very pleased with the result. It sets up a winner take all match next week in St. James' Park. Anzhi will have to play a league game this weekend and then have to make the long trip up to England. The atmosphere at St. James' will be better than this evening's. It's all set up for an exciting affair next week with a spot in the Europa League quarterfinals on the line.