By Harry De Cosemo at St James’ Park.
History stood before Newcastle United on Wednesday night, but it was so long ago that new generations were desperate to witness a night to rival any other. Subsequently, they witnessed the utter dismantling of a glittering Paris Saint-Germain side.
Every fan had perhaps wondered when playing on the biggest of stages would feel real again; there could have been no better time for those on and off the pitch to take stock than when the iconic music kicked in.
What had been promised was an occasion for the ages; a night everyone would remember to say they were there.
The fact that one of Europe’s best teams, with arguably the best player on the planet in Kylian Mbappe, provided the opposition, ramped up the pressure, but also the chances of a magnanimous and historic evening on Tyneside. The sort of night that everyone could one day say ‘I was there’.
Mbappe was mobbed by supporters desperate for a glimpse when PSG took part in the customary pre-match training session at St James’ Park on Tuesday. But among a chorus of boos for each player’s name when read out, his was the most profound. Once he fed Ousmane Dembele in the opening minutes, though, the home crowd were almost muted simultaneously as his volley whistled the wrong side of the post.
It could hardly have been closer, and it was a warning shot for a Newcastle side who had started with the sort of vigour befitting of the cacophony of noise from the stands.
For PSG, a lot of the build-up had been about containing the Newcastle freight train in the first 20 minutes, but when Gianluigi Donnarumma parried Alexander Isak’s shot into the path of Miguel Almiron, they failed that assignment. Any previous record went out the window as the Paraguayan wheeled away in trademark enthusiasm.
Warren Zaire-Emery is undoubtedly one of the most exciting teenagers in world football, and he almost showed why with a superb effort from distance which narrowly evaded Nick Pope’s left-hand post. Once again, the Gallowgate End took a collective deep breath.
Newcastle were setting pressing traps high up the pitch. Bruno Guimaraes, back to his best after a run of poor form and set to sign a new contract, was absolutely imperious alongside Sean Longstaff and Sandro Tonali throughout the first half.
PSG’s main strength, searing pace out wide through Mbappe and Dembele, should have overpowered the ageing legs of Dan Burn and Kieran Trippier, but they couldn’t breach the busy, rotating whirlwind that was the hosts’ midfield three.
With six minutes to play before the break, albeit after a long VAR check for offside against Bruno Guimaraes as he crossed the ball, Burn sent Newcastle into a two-goal lead and a bouncing St James’ Park into a state of further frenzy. The boy from Blyth had his moment, and the manner in which he stood to take it in upon confirmation of the goal, suggested the wait was worth every second.
The break came and there was a moment of calm contentment for the home crowd.
But when Longstaff, another homegrown talent, marched on to a one-two and slid the ball under Donnarumma five minutes into the second half, overwhelming joy turned into sheer disbelief. Not even the most hardened owners of rose-tinted glasses in the home end could have foreseen this.
Reality bites at the harshest times, though, and just six minutes later, Lucas Hernández pulled one back for the Parisians. It was a swing of the pendulum which could have been crucial, and when Dembele ran through on goal 10 minutes later, Newcastle feared the worst. Somehow, though, they survived.
Holding firm and keeping composed, the Magpies stemmed the tide. But PSG’s passing was suddenly crisp and fluid; there were frantic moments to survive, including an air-kick in space from a low cross which summed up the ineffectual nature of Mbappe’s performance.
Five minutes of stoppage time were added as Fabian Schar thumped a fourth to wrap up what may well be their greatest night of the 21st century.
This was a night for Newcastle to prove they belonged. Intensity, fervour and ferocity were going to be their friend, but in the end, it was much more than a competitive advantage, it was the gale force which forced a supremely talented PSG to fall without much fight.
Borussia Dortmund are next up on Tyneside, and Newcastle’s baying wolves can’t wait to go again.