Newcastle United FC are a step closer to a return to the UEFA Champions League group stage after Nolberto Solano gave them a 1-0 victory at Serbo-Montenegrin title-holders FK Partizan.
With both sides strong in midfield and defence, there were few chances in the early stages of the game. Kieron Dyer went close for Newcastle on eight minutes with a long-range effort and Partizan defender Nenad Djordjevic headed off target just before the half-hour.
On 39 minutes, though, came Newcastle's goal, as Gary Speed and Laurent Robert combined to send the ball in from the left, and although Alan Shearer was unable to get to the ball, Solano was on hand to slide the ball in at the far post.
Igor Duljaj went close to equalising a minute from half-time, but Shay Given pulled off a save that could yet prove decisive in the tie, as his team battened down the hatches in the second period, Jonathan Woodgate organising the Newcastle defence superbly.
Olivier Bernard had the visitors' best chance of the second half on 74 minutes, as he shot straight at Ivica Kralj in the Partizan goal, while at the other end Given denied Iliev. In the final moments Partizan striker Milan Stojanoski and captain Saša Ilic were both thwarted by excellent Given stops, as Newcastle ensured they would take a lead back to England in two weeks.
Praise for fans
Partizan coach Lothar Matthäus praised his opponents and the home supporters after the game. "Congratulations to the Newcastle players and to our supporters", he said. "
The crowd were on top form, but we were not. My players were unhappy, Given did impossible things in the last minutes. Football is strange, we will try to do everything right in the second match and maybe, I said maybe, find a way to a miracle."
Sir Bobby Robson, the Newcastle manager, said: "I think Partizan are still very much in the game and I think it will be something similar in Newcastle. It was always close - the difference between the two sides was minimal and Partizan in the last second missed a big opportunity.
Maybe we were a little bit lucky, but it was also a very good save by the goalkeeper, and because we won 1-0, it gives us an advantage."