Newcastle United have been knocked out of the Europa League at the quarterfinal stage by Benfica after the two sides drew 1-1 Thursday at St James' Park. Newcastle came into this match needing to score 2 without conceding to advance, and while they came close more than once following Papiss Cisse's 71st minute tally, the Eagles were able to take advantage of the Toon's aggressiveness and pull one back in stoppage time, effectively punching their ticket to the semifinals.
It was a closely contested match, especially in the second half. Hatem Ben Arfa returned from injury and came on in the 63rd minute, immediately igniting the home crowd, as well as the players. Until that time, the only threat appeared to be Papiss Cisse, who put the ball in the back of the net twice from offside positions. Those offside finishes pair nicely with the double goalpost shots from the first leg - he could have easily scored 5 or 6 goals over both matches. He didn't though, and it was Benfica who took advantage of Newcastle mistakes (2 in the first leg, 1 in the second), and it's Benfica who enjoy the firstfruits of victory.
That's another season without a trophy for the Magpies, who were giving supporters reasons to dream with their fine form in Europe. It will also be at least a year before they get the opportunity to play continental football again. That may be a bit of a blessing in disguise. The Europa League schedule did congest Newcastle's fixture list, stretching an already thin squad made thinner by numerous injuries to its breaking point. With six matches left and certain safety in sight, Alan Pardew's squad will now be free to focus solely on the Premier League, where they'll next play Sunderland on Sunday.