By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Estadio dos Barreiros, Funchal
Newcastle United 0
Newcastle United picked up a impressive point from their opening Europa League Group D fixture, as they drew 0-0 away at Maritimo.
A clean sheet on a difficult playing surface will have pleased manager Alan Pardew, but the Magpies could easily have been celebrating a victory having struck the woodwork three times during the course of the evening.
The hosts had their chances too, however, and United goalkeeper Rob Elliot - making just his second appearance for the Club - made four excellent saves to keep Maritimo at bay.
It was Maritimo who fashioned the first chance inside the opening two minutes but Heldon - sliding in inside the six-yard box - was unable to connect with David Simao's left-wing delivery, when any touch would have surely resulted in a goal.
And they were to go even closer on 11 minutes when Sami met Heldon's corner with an acrobatic volley, which Elliot did brilliantly to tip over the top.
Elliot was called into action again almost immediately when Mike Williamson's slip gave Sami a yard of space inside the box, and the stopper excelled once more with a block to prevent the hosts from taking the lead.
It took until the 28th minute for the visitors to launch their first meaningful effort, and it came courtesy of their most experienced player on the pitch, Shola Ameobi.
United had forced a series of corners which Maritimo just about coped with until the final one, where the ball fell kindly to centre-back Williamson 12 yards out. His strike was blocked and Shola Ameobi, following in, was unable to force the loose ball home from close range as a combination of the woodwork and keeper somehow kept it out.
That sparked Newcastle into life. Gosling was given time and space to drive forward before pulling the trigger on a left-footed shot from distance which struck the foot of the post, before Obertan almost broke the deadlock with a spectacular half volley that flew across the face of goal.
United continued where they had left of after the break as, just a couple of minutes after the restart, the woodwork prevented them from edging ahead.
When Maritimo defender Joao Guilherme missed a headed on the halfway line, Shola Ameobi raced onto the ball, drove towards the box and having tricked his way past a couple of challenges, curled an effort towards the top corner which struck the frame of the goal and bounced away to safety.
Romain Amalfitano - making his full debut for the Magpies - blazed high and wide after a slick build-up involving substitute Sammy Ameobi and older brother Shola, before Maritimo gave them a scare on 59 minutes.
From defending some Newcastle pressure, the hosts broke at pace down the left, and Sami delivered a low cross which replacement Fidelis struck first time, but inches the wrong side of the upright.
The pressure was building and in the 65th minute Ameobi Snr managed to wriggle free of a couple of challenges inside the area but found Salin equal to his shot which was heading for the far corner.
But Maritimo continued to pose a threat on the counter-attack and only a strong left hand from Elliot prevented Sami's drive finding the back of the net with 20 minutes remaining.
With time ticking away, Davide Santon came to Newcastle's rescue as the home side almost snuck a winner. Rafael Miranda flicked on a corner into the path of Roberge, who headed powerfully towards goal.
But Santon was on hand to nod off the line, via the crossbar, with United scrambling the loose ball away to safety.
With the tie deep into five minutes of added-on time, Elliot justified his inclusion for one final time, pushing behind Goncalo Abreu's bouncing effort, which threatened to sneak inside his near post.
And that was enough to earn the Magpies a vital point on their travels against opponents who are yet to taste defeat this season.
Maritimo (4-2-3-1): Romain Salin; Briguel (c), Joao Guilherme, Valentin Roberge, Luis Olim; Rafael Miranda, Joao Luiz; Heldon (Fidelis 55), David Simao (Goncalo Abreu 75), Sami; Danilo Dias (Adilson 82)
Subs not used: Wellington Lima, Joao Diogo, Marcio Rosario, Igor Rossi
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): Rob Elliot; James Perch, Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor, Davide Santon; Gael Bigirimana, Dan Gosling; Gabriel Obertan (Sylvain Marveaux 80), Haris Vuckic (Sammy Ameobi 53), Romain Amalfitano (Shane Ferguson 76); Shola Ameobi (c)
Referee: Robert Schorgenhofer (Austria)
Bookings: Maritimo - Simao (45); Newcastle - Bigirimana (45), Amalfitano (68), Santon (86)