Vålerenga IF certainly made an impression on Newcastle United FC manager Sir Bobby Robson as they held his side to a 1-1 draw in their UEFA Cup third round first-leg match at Ullevål. "I am very impressed by Vålerenga," said Sir Bobby. "They got amongst us and they were tenacious. They gave us a very hard game."
The visitors took the lead late in the first half, through an expert finish from Welsh international striker Craig Bellamy. However, only nine minutes into the second half, Vålerenga's tenacity was rewarded with an equaliser, coming from Runar Normann.
Robson decided to utilise the strength of his large squad and left the influential pair of Alan Shearer and Kieron Dyer on the bench as the game kicked off in sub-zero temperatures. Both sides certainly seemed to have been caught cold, as the game got off to a distinctly quiet start.
The home team began to warm to the task however, as Freddy Dos Santos had the first real chance of the game, but his low shot was saved by a diving Shay Given in the Newcastle goal. The visitors went straight back up the other end, but Bellamy, clean through, was denied by Oyvind Bolthof.
Newcastle dominated possession in the first period, and Bolthof had to be alert to deny Shearer’s deputy, Shola Ameobi, from opening the scoring. The young English striker was proving dangerous, combining well with the pacy Bellamy.
After the break, Newcastle midfield player Gary Speed had a chance to increase the lead with a low shot, before Vålerenga grabbed their equaliser. The goal was similar to Bellamy’s, with Normann showing impressive composure for a defensive player.
Visibly lifted, Vålerenga poured forward in search of a second and David Hanssen went close with a good shot on the hour mark. With Dyer coming off the bench, Newcastle were always a threat on the break, but it was Jonas Krogstad who went closest to securing a late winner. "We have to be very satisfied with this performance," said Vålerenga player-coach Kjetil Rekdal. "We started well and controlled the ball but could not get as high up the field as we wanted. Then we gave away a soft goal."
Rekdal was positive about his side’s chances in the return match. He said: "
I think we are in with a chance, but we know we have to score at least one goal in Newcastle. I think our morale will soar after this result."