By Harry De Cosemo at St James’ Park.
In Germany, the residents of Dortmund are known for their welcoming nature, love for a party, and mining history, much like their hosts from Newcastle.
At St James’ Park on Tuesday night, fans of Borussia Dortmund must have felt at home. It looked like that on the pitch, too, as Felix Nmecha’s goal was enough to see them burst the bubble of a Newcastle United side with inflated dreams after a stunning win over Paris Saint-Germain three weeks ago.
It was a sodden night and that was reflected in much of the home side’s play.
Chaotic energy was seeping onto the pitch from every corner of the stadium like the rain pouring from the sky. It was no wonder the game started and continued at a frenetic pace.
The first chance fell to the visitors; Donyell Malen was played through after a swift Dortmund counter-attack. Nick Pope denied him with a strong hand before Anthony Gordon struck well to force one from Gregor Kobel at the other end.
Just as in the awe-inspiring thrashing of PSG, every interception, clearance and tackle was greeted like a goal by the home fans. As cliche as it sounds. It was true.
The pattern from the opening exchanges repeated itself 10 minutes later. Pope again denied Dortmund, this time with a stunning double save. Then, Gordon forced Kobel into action.
Alexander Isak, the former Dortmund striker, was forced off with an injury in the first half. Callum Wilson was more than an able deputy, but it was a blow on a night which, as it progressed, began to look progressively trickier than it may have done on paper.
Newcastle’s victory over PSG, and the German side’s lack of victory in the first two group games, perhaps shifted perceptions.
Dortmund remain one of the most iconic clubs in Europe and a team filled with ability. Neither team could wrestle the initiative before the break, but that didn’t stop them from trying. It was a fascinating, tempestuous contest.
Newcastle had felt hard done by when Miguel Almiron went down in the area, but nothing was given.
On the stroke of half time, St James’ Park heard a new noise; an eruption of noise as Nmecha curled a shot home from inside the area. The home crowd rallied, but there was a sense it had been coming.
Needing to chase and rally and rise; Newcastle withered from early in the second half. It was Dortmund who were second to every ball, forcing Eddie Howe’s dice into ineffectual passing lanes.
But suddenly, Wilson, who had been painfully isolated since coming on, had his chance. From point-blank range, he was denied by Kobel, who hadn’t really been tested since those early efforts. It should have been a leveller; it wasn’t and another moment past them by, but Newcastle got up and went again.
The noise came back, but unlike against PSG when it wrestled control of the tempo, Dortmund were steadfast, executing a plan of shutting out the central areas, as if they’d learnt the lessons from the previous visitors’ failings.
Time moved on, the rain came down. But there was no flood from Newcastle. This was a humbling reminder of the level; the role experience and know-how plays in Champions League football.
Dortmund don’t have the quality of PSG, nor even of themselves in years gone by, but they came and tamed Tyneside when perhaps the narrative had stridden into the realms of that being an impossibility.
Wilson headed against the crossbar late on. It was the closest Newcastle came, but it was hardly part of a necessary onslaught.
Next, it is the rematch, at Signal Iduna Park, in two weeks’ time. A trip to Paris follows. This result has turned a dream scenario into a potentially tough one. Now their backs are against the wall, it is time for Newcastle to respond.
On the evidence of the past two years, though, they know exactly how to do that.