Some Newcastle fans could be forgiven for waking up this morning feeling like their team missed an opportunity in Athens last night, in front of less than 50 travelling Geordies (the prices and logistics the twin sticking points). But last night’s result, ground out in unspectacular, but sensible style by a team featuring nine changes from the weekend’s impressive victory over Spurs was far from a bad result. The conditions were counter-productive and many of the team playing were making their competitive bow for the club, and not just the season, and it was very much a second string team that took to the pitch.
It might not have been a comprehensive victory over Greek side Atromitos – or even a victory at all, for that matter – but there were several points of interest, both positive and negative to take away from last night’s 1-1 Fourth Qualifying Round draw in the hot, hot heat of Greece.
1. Bigirimana Looks A Great Signing
He might look slightly unpolished, as his occasionally wayward touch last night might have suggested, but young Burundi national Gael Bigirimana looks an excellent and exciting prospect. In only his first competitive performance for Newcastle, the 18-year-old showed signs of his huge potential, looking a lot like fellow midfielder Cheick Tiote in his composure and confidence on the ball. He has a range of passes, both long and short, that he’s shown glimpses of since signing from Coventry, and last night he and fellow new signing Vurnon Anita controlled the midfield so much that Newcastle emerged with a 60% possession rate without having a hatful of chances.
He will mature, especially with the caliber of players around him in the squad, and at just £1m, he looks an absolute steal and if he develops the way it seems he could, Newcastle could well have another Tiote on their hands for a fraction even of the low cost the Ivorian commanded when he came in. If, as some expect, Tiote makes a move sooner rather than later, Alan Pardew will have some confidence in the fact that he has Bigirimana waiting in the wings along with Haris Vuckic and Mehdi Abeid to take his opportunity.