Football you cruel, wicked thing. For so long, it looked as though, as sure as the rain, a frustrated Paris Saint-Germain were set for a seventh defeat in nine against English opponents to leave their hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout stages in Newcastle’s hands.
PSG threw everything at a bruised and battered Newcastle, but no matter how much they huffed and puffed they couldn’t break their curse. Their Champions League tale of woe was about to gain another chastening chapter.
But sometimes battle-weary sides don’t always get what they deserve, as a Kylian Mbappe stoppage time penalty denied an injury-ravaged Newcastle a crucial victory in the cruellest fashion, with the help of the relentless villain of the piece: VAR.
Newcastle fans around the city were in buoyant and rather philosophical mood ahead of the match, with no repeat of the clashes with PSG’s ultras on the eve of the encounter.
They weren’t overly concerned about an impending defeat that would end their European adventure prematurely. Their depleted side surely did not have enough in the tank to best PSG on their own turf, not after they had put five past Monaco at the weekend. The Geordies, thousands of whom were ticketless, were in the French capital to have fun, regardless.
Nothing gets the pulses racing like the modern-day phenomenon the traditionalists among us can really do without – the pre-match light show – and PSG’s was typically overextravagant.
The home tifo game was strong, however, with Newcastle’s backline still thinking about the imagery as the match got under way and the hosts swarmed all over the startled group strugglers.
Mbappe almost added a sublime finishing touch to an early slick move but was denied by Nick Pope in the away goal. PSG’s front three were breathing as one imposing beast.
In the blink of an eye, however, Alexander Isak should have scored after being picked out by Miguel Almiron, only to quickly make amends by firing the visitors in front 24 minutes in, sending the away end into bewildered delirium.
The opener owed much to the tenacity of Tino Livramento, who kept riding tackles, even as his feet seemed to be buckling with every step. Almiron shot for goal, Gianluigi Donnarumma made a mess of trying to palm the shot away and Isak was on hand to tap home – the Swede becoming the first Newcastle player since Alan Shearer against Inter Milan in 2003 to score an away Champions League goal.
It was then a matter of settling in and doing what they could to get under the skin of their opponents – something that happens all too readily in these parts, especially against teams from across the Channel.
Knowing there wasn’t cavalry of sufficient calibre on the bench to call upon to freshen things up, the visitors had to leave everything out there to complete their assassination of the Parisiens, and that is exactly what Eddie Howe got.
Mbappe was the only one really looking like he had the ingenuity to unlock the resolute Geordie rearguard, missing an overhead kick early in the second half before sashaying his way into the penalty area to create an opening for Bradley Barcola, who had to score, only for Pope to fling out a hand to claw the ball away.
Two big penalty appeals were waved away and the gesticulations turned into over-zealous protestations one too many times for the referee’s liking, earning several PSG players a caution. They were doing it again in Europe.
A league double over the might of PSG – nobody saw this coming so soon into the Saudi regime.
More pertinently, however, victory over AC Milan in their final group match in two week’s time and the knockout stages beckons.
Mbappe flashed just wide right at the death, Ousmane Dembele, once the world’s second-most expensive player, was denied by another close-range Pope wondersave, while Barcola again fluffed his lines.
It took a Livramento handball, spotted by VAR, to break Geordie hearts. Their knockout stage hopes are still alive, but it could, and should, have been so much more rosy.