Benfica 3, Newcastle United 1 - An Instant Reaction

Michael Steele

Two missed opportunities and two defensive miscues turned the first leg of the Europa League Quarterfinal between Benfica and Newcastle into a bloodbath.

Benfica defeated Newcastle United 3-1 Thursday in one of the most heart-wrenching defeats the Toon have had to suffer all campaign. The match was highlighted by two Papiss Cisse shots that deflected off the post, followed by two defensive howlers that directly led to goals for the hosts.

It's a scoreline that doesn't reflect the way the match was played, really. The 1 goal for Newcastle is harsh, given the misses by Cisse. If you weren't watching, these weren't of the "shot-from-distance-that-clanged-off-the-post" variety. They were more "Cisse-found-himself-one-on-one-with-the-keeper-and-beat-him" heartbreakers. It really could have been 3-1 to Newcastle at the 60 minute mark, and maybe it was that knowledge that led to the team losing their collective head. First was an ill-advised, poorly executed back pass from Davide Santon that Lima took advantage of, then Steven Taylor reached his arm out and purposefully struck the ball in the box, leading to a penalty shot. All of a sudden, Benfica were in the driver's seat, and Newcastle was left to play the part of a mentally defeated team going through the motions to keep the score close.

This one particularly hurts because Newcastle's good fortune in the Europa League has been the salve to heal the wound that is the team's continued presence near the relegation zone, and now they must play a vital match against a fully rested and talented Fulham team in less than 72 hours. A victory wouldn't have changed that, but it would have made what seems like an inevitably a little easier to swallow. They still have a chance to turn things around - that away goal is vital, and they proved they can break through the Eagles' defense. The rest of this season will be nothing but an uphill climb, and that includes next Thursday's match.

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