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Yass Valley evolves into a foodie haven

On a sunny afternoon at Gundaroo it’s easy to imagine you’re in a goldrush town during the mid-1800s, when the wool industry drove the Australian economy and drovers and shearers inspired a local poet named Banjo Paterson.

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Along the wide main street is a police lockup from 1830 that may have housed petty bushrangers; an old colonial pub where a group of drinkers are enjoying the shade; and a well-preserved slab hut that was once the general store.

Further along is the Royal Hotel, now home to a sophisticated diner called Grazing. It’s been renovated and extended over the years but feels like a country inn from 1865.

Back then the area was mined for precious metals – and today we literally strike gold.

Perched on a table in Grazing’s front room is a gold-plated replica of the Melbourne Cup, and behind it is trainer Gai Waterhouse, who last year won the Cup for the first time and is enjoying lunch while visiting local horse studs.

Funnily enough, one of Paterson’s earliest efforts was an 1886 poem called A Dream Of The Melbourne Cup. It’s all about drinking beer, eating a hearty meal and conjuring up the name of the winning horse in his sleep.

And now we’re being shown to a table near one of the restaurant’s five fireplaces – just behind my new friend Gai.

It’s hard to choose from the imaginative menu and in the end we share everything: entrees of slow-cooked pork belly and a zesty ocean trout gravlax, followed by an unbelievably good beef fillet and a crisp “Grazing Pie” of snapper, scallops and mussels.

Most of the herbs and vegetables – including the stinging nettles used to flavour the ice-cream on our dessert – come from Grazing’s garden.

Even better, each dish comes with a matching wine recommendation. I’m given a peppery shiraz from the Capital Wines Epicurean Centre, housed in the original stables behind the restaurant.

Head chef Kurt Neumann aims to source semi-locally, which must be easy given the abundance of high-quality produce in the area.

“People have a stigma about Canberra,” Kurt says, “but they forget there’s a lot going on in the region.”

I agree. With its vineyards, boutique food producers, historic villages and fertile landholdings, the Yass Valley presents a tempting package.

The region is centred around the town of Yass, about 45 minutes from Canberra, and takes in several villages located in a triangle framed by the Hume, Barton and Federal highways.

The Yass River snakes from its source in the rugged country near Bungendore past grey hills and the occasional rocky limestone outcrop before joining up with the mighty Murrumbidgee.

This diverse terrain creates perfect growing conditions for cool-climate grape varieties. There are more than 30 wineries, plus many providores who sell from the farm gate.

“It’s like the Hunter Valley was 30 years ago,” says Robyn Rowe, who sells her exquisite hand-made chocolates at her tasting room and cafe, Chocolat D’Or (golden chocolate), on the family property at Murrumbateman.

Her selection is inspired by local produce, such as honey from a family-run apiary, cherry port from the Hilltops and walnuts from Bungendore that are cracked as they’re used so they stay fresh.

It’s hard to resist tasting one or two ($2 each) with a mug of hot chocolate on the verandah.

Further along the Barton Highway on a hillside overlooking Canberra’s Black Mountain Tower is another must-visit stop on the food and wine trail.

Peter and Caroline O’Clery bought their Homeleigh Grove property in 1984 and began looking at ideas for products. After reading in a CSIRO report that 95 per cent of Australia’s olives and olive oils were imported, they decided to grow their own.

“Since olives tend to do well in the same regions as wines, it seemed logical,” Peter says.

At their farm-gate outlet, I pick up a one-litre glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil ($22, refills for $18), packets of Kalamata olives ($6) and smaller bottles of infused oil ($10) in intriguing flavours such as rosemary and thyme, and blood orange.

“The blood orange is wonderful in chocolate cake,” Caroline says. “It really brings out the flavour of the chocolate, rather than just using a plain oil.”

The O’Clery’s pioneering approach to growing produce is a common theme in the Yass Valley.

Winemaker Ken Helm, a former CSIRO biologist, started his vineyard at Murrumbateman 40 years ago. Helm Wines now creates some of the district’s top drops.

“I drink a bottle of wine a day,” says Ken in the 1888 Toual Public School house that serves as the vineyard’s tasting room.

It’s easy to see why. Since small beginnings on a five-acre block that was “eaten to the ground by sheep”, Ken now wins medals, and praise from wine critics, for his rieslings and cabernet sauvignons.

Experts told him the area was too cold for wine production, and local sheep farmers couldn’t understand why anyone would want to turn farmland into vineyards.

So Ken successfully ran for mayor of Yass Shire – “the only way I could make a change was to get in there” – and continues to be an advocate for the region and its wines.

“The whole tone of the region has changed in the last 40 years because of winemaking,” he says. “Now we run the sheep among the vines.”

Things have certainly evolved in the Yass Valley. One example is the rebirth of Helm Wines’ little school house, which was quietly deteriorating in a field before Ken rescued it.

Back in Banjo Paterson’s day it hosted meetings of the Temperance League, where locals signed the pledge against the evils of alcohol.

Now there’s got to be a poem in that.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: By car, Yass is 280km (about three hours) from Sydney. NSW TrainLink Southern has two daily services from Sydney Central to Yass Junction. Qantas (qantas南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,) and Virgin Australia (virginaustralia南宁桑拿网,) fly several times a day from Sydney to Canberra.

STAYING THERE: Sundowner Swaggers Motor Inn has rooms from $155 per night, including breakfast (sundownerswaggers南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,).

PLAYING THERE: Pick up free maps and a wineries guide from the Yass Valley Visitor Centre (yassvalley南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,). Grazing and the Capital Wines Epicurean Centre are at The Royal Hotel, Gundaroo (grazing南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网, and capitalwines南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,); Chocolat D’Or is at 1153 Nanima Road, Murrumbateman (robynrowechocolates南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,); Homeleigh Grove is at 50 Wallaroo Rd, Wallaroo (homeleighgroveolives南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,); Helm Wines is at 19 Butts Rd, Murrumbateman (helmwines南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,).

* The writer travelled as a guest of Yass Valley Tourism.

Judi Dench tells of eyesight struggle

Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench has told of her difficult battle with failing eyesight that has left her unable to read scripts and struggling to watch films.

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The British star of stage and screen suffers from macular degeneration – an age-related condition that leads to the gradual loss of vision – which her mother also had.

But the James Bond actress, who has notched up a staggering 95 award nominations during her illustrious career, baulked at suggestions her career will slow down because of her failing health.

The 79-year-old told The Hollywood Reporter: “I never want to make much of it, but it is difficult – very, very difficult.

“I can’t read anymore. I can’t paint like I used to. I try to watch movies, but it’s quite difficult. But these are all of the negatives. I don’t want to really think about all that. What I can do, I do. And I somehow get by.”

Even before her eyesight began to decline, Dench preferred to have others read her scripts to her, as Steve Coogan did in her latest film Philomena which has earned the actress an Oscar nomination.

But Dench, who has also recently undergone surgery on her knee, insists she has no plans to retire.

She said: “I heard a woman being interviewed on the radio the other day who was 105, and I expected this very frail voice, but this wonderful voice came out and she said to this reporter who was interviewing her, ‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ she said, ‘Don’t stop anything. I never stop anything I’m doing because otherwise I’ll never get started again.’ And I thought, ‘That’ll do.'”

Since making her professional acting debut at the Old Vic in 1957, Dench has become one of Britain’s – and Hollywood’s – most acclaimed female actors.

It was Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein – a long-time fan of hers – that launched Dench’s career on the big screen nearly half a century later when she was 63 after seeing her in John Madden’s Mrs Brown.

Their partnership has been one of Hollywood’s big success stories, with Weinstein distributing six of Dame Judi’s seven Oscar nominated films – Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, Iris, Mrs Henderson Presents and now Philomena.

Problems for Zenit and pies for Dortmund in last 16

They mustered only one win in six group games and finished their campaign by losing 4-1 at Austria Vienna.

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They will also be rusty after a two-month winter break and will have to close part of the Petrovsky stadium as a punishment for racist behaviour by their fans in the Austria Vienna match.

Even in an unusually mild Russian winter, it all adds up to a pretty grim outlook, yet Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti is anything but discouraged, claiming that the group stage results did not reflect their performances.

“The team live for this competition and their careers are driven by it,” the Italian, whose team will be playing their first competitive match since early December, told UEFA南宁桑拿网,.

“We have played in the Champions League for many years now, and we’ve fought well this season. We have many important qualities which means we can play at this level,” he added.

“We drew the home match against Porto when we should have won, and it was the same against Austria Vienna, where we played with 10 men for more than an hour.

“We deserved to collect more points, but overall we can be happy with our performance.”

HEAVY DEFEAT

Dortmund amassed 12 points in a much tougher group, featuring Napoli, Arsenal and Olympique Marseille although their domestic form has been inconsistent.

After winning the Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 and finishing second last season, they have had some ups and downs this season and are currently third.

On Saturday, they suffered their heaviest away defeat for four seasons when they went down 3-0 at Hamburg SV but coach Juergen Klopp was confident they would rally.

“We have often shown the right reaction in the Champions League in the past after losing league games,” he said.

“It’s a completely different competition,” added midfielder Nuri Sahin. “We will be well prepared in St Petersburg and we want to get a good result to bring back to Dortmund.”

Zenit have been ordered to close the four sections of the Petrovsky stadium used by their ultras and organise extra security measures following the incidents in Vienna, where their fans displayed racist banners and let off fireworks.

The club’s general manager Maxim Mitrofanov said that season ticket holders for the ultras sections would not be allowed in other parts of the stadium, even if they bought tickets.

He also warned of delays entering the ground as club employees checked that none of the banned fans was trying to get in.

“We understand that it’s hard to be outside at the stadium for a long time,” he told Zenit’s website (南宁桑拿网,www.en.fc-zenit.ru)

“Petrovsky does not have the most comfortable infrastructure, unfortunately, especially in winter time. So we’re going to give Borussia fans hot tea, and treat them to pirozhki (Russian pies).

“We’ll show them true Russian hospitality, to soften the influence of any cold weather on the match atmosphere.”

(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Clare Lovell)

Build more homes for private rent

The British government should help councils build homes for long-term private rent rather than engaging in politics over affordable housing and home ownership, a report by leading developers and councils says.

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The Making Rent Viable report calls on ministers to create formal planning guidelines to make it cheaper for developers to build homes solely for rent.

At the moment, constructing homes expressly for rental purposes is more expensive than selling off properties as soon as they are built.

The report, published by law firm Addleshaw Goddard, says the private rental sector has doubled in size in the past decade.

It says councils can harness long-term rental income by building private-rental homes on public land.

A formal covenant of rental provision for a minimum number of years should be created to guarantee a long-term supply of rental homes while helping to assuage the fears of councils that developers could quickly sell off properties.

Among other measures, the report argues for private rental quotas in each local authority area to “reduce the potential political backlash against building for private rent”.

Marnix Elsenaar, planning partner at Addleshaw Goddard, said planning guidelines needed to be stronger, and financial viability models needed to reflect the fact that building for long-term rent wasn’t the same as traditional housebuilding.

“Policymakers need to appreciate that if they get this right they could unlock a model that provides thousands of new homes with real long-term community benefits,” Mr Elsenaar said.

Olympiakos seek to end losing habit against United

Yet a rejuvenated United served the runaway Greek league leaders a warning of improving form in their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.

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The Greek champions, who have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in four years, will have to make a piece of history if they are to overcome United after losing their four previous meetings.

There is scope for optimism, for Michel’s team are in imperious form, unbeaten in 26 league matches and holders of a 20-point lead at the top of the Super League.

Olympiakos head into the match on the back of a 4-0 win over OFI Crete on Saturday in which recent Serbian signing Marko Scepovic scored the first hat-trick of his career.

“I would like to see the same concentration, passion and appetite from my players against United as they showed in the game against OFI,” Michel said after the club’s 24th victory in 26 league matches.

“We face each match with the same seriousness and we believe we can get a great performance and result on Tuesday,” the 50-year-old former Real Madrid and Spain striker said.

“We have turned a page and our minds are fully focused on the Champions League match with United, I can see the appetite in the eyes and on the faces of my players; they are so eager for it,” he commented on his Facebook account on Sunday.

Michel will, however, be without one of his senior players after former Argentina striker Javier Saviola picked up a leg injury and was ruled out.

Saviola’s absence means 21-year-old Nigerian striker Michael Olaitan, who has scored eight times in 15 appearances this season, is likely to start up front with Argentine attacking midfielder Alejandro Dominguez playing just behind.

United travel to Greece with the Champions League their only chance of winning a trophy this season, although that chance is a long shot at best.

On the plus side, Wayne Rooney pledged his long term future to United last week before scoring a superb goal in Saturday’s victory.

Also, manager David Moyes was able to include Marouane Fellaini in the starting lineup against Palace after his long injury absence.

(Editing by Rex Gowar)

Lennon sets new targets for Celtic

The Hoops boss has watched proudly on as goalkeeper Fraser Forster first surpassed the club’s clean sheet record before setting a new Scottish shut-out record in the 2-0 win on Saturday.

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The English ‘keeper has now gone 13 consecutive matches and 1,215 minutes without conceding a goal as he closes in on Edwin van der Sar’s British record.

Now Lennon has set his sights on surpassing another landmark in what could be a record-breaking league campaign.

Lennon was part of the Celtic team that racked up 103 points under Martin O’Neill in the 2000/2001 season.

However, the Parkhead boss believes his squad can top that, with his side on target to reach 108 points if they win their remaining 12 games.

“It would be quite something to get more than 100 points and more than we got under Martin in 2002,” Lennon said.

“It is a target we are aiming for. We want to try to remain unbeaten until the end of the season but it might be a step too far.”

Celtic head north to Aberdeen on Tuesday night looking for their 16th consecutive league win but they will find it tough at Pittodrie.

The Dons defeated Lennon’s side at Parkhead a fortnight ago to knock the Hoops out of the Scottish Cup and were the last side to score past Forster on league duty way back in November.

Derek McInnes’ side are Celtic’s closest challengers, albeit 24 points off the pace after a surprise 3-1 defeat to Partick Thistle on Saturday, and Lennon knows his side can expect a tough test on Tuesday night.

“Aberdeen are the only team to have scored against us in quite a while now and they provide us with very stiff opposition,” Lennon said.

“They played very well against us a couple of weeks ago. Our focus is on maintaining this run now. We’ve broken the clean sheet record and we would like to go as long as possible unbeaten but that is going to be very difficult.

“It’s got all the ingredients for a great game and we will need to maintain our focus between now and the end of the season if we are to remain undefeated.”

Vigils held for slain asylum seeker

Thousands of people have lit up the night skies with candles across Australia at vigils to remember slain Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati and to call for an end to secrecy on refugees.

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Organiser of the event GetUp! estimated 15,000 people attended vigils in several capital cities, with about 5000 in Melbourne and 3000 in Sydney.

The vigils come days after Mr Berati, 23, was killed and 62 other asylum seekers were injured in violence at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

“The truth is we just don’t know what’s happening in these places. The government’s shut off the lights, taking censorship to an unprecedented level,” GetUp! national director Sam McLean said.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello spoke at the Melbourne vigil in Federation Square and said the people who attended across the country were doing serious moral work.

“We know asylum policy is complex, but what isn’t complex is that a human being who came to us for protection instead died in terrible circumstances,” Rev Costello said.

Father Bob Macguire, also in Melbourne, said the thousands of candles that lit up Federation Square would shine a light on the plight of asylum seekers.

Several other speakers called for the closure of Manus Island.

The gathering also shared one minute’s silence to remember Mr Berati.

GetUp! says more than 600 snap protests were organised for Sunday night, from Queensland cattle stations to Sydney’s Town Hall.

Among the 3000 at the Town Hall vigil was Emma Miller-Cockcroft, who is sick of the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, which she reckons doesn’t reflect the will of many Australians.

“If your own government doesn’t respect human right to life then … it’s just a disgrace. It’s embarrassing,” the 28-year-old told AAP.

“It’s important that the world knows not all Australians are like this. We’ve got a reputation as being quite racist.”

The “hysteria” over a couple of boat arrivals was disingenuous and ignored Australia’s history, she added.

“Some of my family came here in 1890. They didn’t drive to Australia from Europe, they came by boats.”

Xenophobic treatment of asylum seekers must stop in Australia, The Chaser’s Chris Tylor said during a brief address to the crowd.

“We have more land than anyone else and we take fewer people than anyone else. That is absolutely appalling.”

Sydney-based communications student Sarah Hunt, 34, agreed, adding that Australia was “privileged” and said the debate should centre on human rights, not which of the two major parties was less-harsh.

Losing finalist Dubuisson makes big PGA Tour splash

Though bitterly disappointed after losing one down to Australian Jason Day in a marathon title match that lasted 23 holes at Dove Mountain, Dubuisson had much to be proud of after making only his fifth start on the U.

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S. circuit.

“I’m happy but, at the same time, disappointed because this afternoon I didn’t play very well,” the Cannes native told reporters after a birdie by Day at the 23rd hole, the driveable par-four 15th, ended the match.

“I just battled, especially the back nine. And at the end, I really battled hard because I wanted to take a chance, at least try to take my chance.

“I’ve learned that my nerves, my mental approach, can be very solid in a difficult situation. I’ve learned that anything can happen. I did well this week and I had some good nerve against my opponent. I know what I have to do now to improve.”

Dubuisson, who in November won the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open where Tiger Woods and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose were also in the field, conjured two spectacular recovery shots on Sunday that fans watching will never forget.

On the 19th hole, the par-four first, he got up and down to save par from desert scrub over the back right of the green, hitting his third shot from behind a cactus, via sand, rocks and a television cable strung in front of him, to four feet.

WRY SMILE

One hole later, at the par-four ninth, he missed the green badly to the left with his approach, his ball ending up in a bush from where he amazingly hit his third to seven feet, prompting a wry smile from Day.

“I just play my shot 100 percent, like it was a playable shot, like I have nothing to lose,” Dubuisson said of his strategy.

“I battled as hard as I could at the end,” added the Frenchman, a brilliant amateur who turned professional after he missed the cut at the 2010 British Open following his only major start so far.

Day was astonished as anyone after watching Dubuisson’s two up-and-downs from seemingly impossible positions.

“Vic coming down the stretch was just unbelievable,” the 26-year-old Australian said. “I’ve never seen someone as young, apart from Jordan Spieth, and in the old days, Tiger Woods, how clutch he was, especially out of the cactus.

“I kept shaking my head because it was so surprising because there was a couple of times there where I thought he was absolutely dead. The tournament was mine (to win). I’m just so thankful to be here right now,” said the winner.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine)

Hawks learn harsh AFL lessons of 2008

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson blames himself for the club’s failure as defending premiers to reach the top eight in 2009.

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But he’s also quick to point out Hawthorn’s long injury list after claiming their 10th flag.

Clarkson says this time, hopefully, will be a lot different.

“You learn a stack,” the dual premiership mentor said, adding that a premiership hangover is only obvious in hindsight.

“You never detect it even when you’re within it.

“We made plenty of errors as a coaching group, as a club and as individual players having gone through that for the first time.

“You probably have a bit of a mask on in a sense. You don’t realise it’s occurring to you.

“We had 15 post-season surgeries after the 2008 grand final.

“Even that in itself is one example of just how difficult it is to prepare properly for the following season.

“But that’s not the sole reason.”

From a historical standpoint, Hawthorn have only gone back-to-back once – back in 1988-89.

It’s become even harder to do in the modern era, with Leigh Matthews’ great Brisbane teams of 2001-03 the most recent example of a club staying on top of the pile for successive years.

Ex-Saint Ben McEvoy’s arrival to replace retired premiership ruckman Max Bailey already looks a good fit and Clarkson has successfully trialled Cyril Rioli in defence following Brent Guerra’s retirement.

Utility Alex Woodward has returned to action following two years on the sidelines with serious knee problems and Matt Suckling gives the Hawks another defensive option after a year out with a knee injury.

Norm Smith Medallist fullback Brian Lake is suspended for the first three rounds.

But none of this compares with the impact caused by the departure of Lance Franklin to Sydney.

It has been suggested that the Hawthorn marketing staff will miss the sport’s most recognisable figure even more than the football department.

But any way you look at it, Franklin is a massive loss.

Even so, Clarkson did a mighty job last year preparing the club for what has turned out to be the post-Buddy era.

Jarryd Roughead’s career-best year was rewarded with 72 goals and a first All-Australian guernsey, while Jack Gunston and Luke Breust also reached the 40-goal mark in 2013.

Add Rioli and ruck-forward David Hale to the mix and the Hawks will hardly struggle for firepower, even though Franklin is – in every since – irreplacable.

The midfield is a work in progress. Dual premiership ruck-rover Brad Sewell, 30, is one veteran who may not be around for long.

Dropped midway through last season, Sewell fought back strongly and Clarkson is keeping the faith that the 190-game veteran remains in his best 22.

“The challenge we’ve got is not so much Sewelly individually but the collective of four or five guys who are all really important to the middle part of our ground, but they’re all 28, 29, 30 years of age,” Clarkson said.

“We’ve started looking at that over the last couple of years by playing Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell in different positions and Sewelly played a little bit of half-back last year.

“We’ll see Mitch Hallahan, Will Langford and Alex Woodward who are ready to play some senior football. But we need to open up the spaces for them.”

Clarkson is not seeking quick dividends from Billy Hartung, Dayle Garlett and James Sicily – picks 24, 38 and 56 in last year’s draft.

But Garlett will still attract plenty of attention, after the Hawks took the plunge on the talented West Australian whose off-field issues turned off several other suitors.

While the Hawks have been late to the pre-season training track in comparison to other clubs, Clarkson is not concerned.

“We’re really pleased with where they’re at in terms of being ready to play and being hungry,” he said.

Remy gives Magpies welcome EPL win

French international striker Loic Remy marked his return to the Newcastle line-up after serving a three game suspension with a late goal to give his side a much-needed 1-0 win over Aston Villa in their Premier League clash.

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The 27-year-old’s 12th goal of the season was Newcastle’s first since they beat West Ham 3-1 in a disastrous run, which also coincided with the departure of playmaker Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint Germain, that has seen them lose six of their nine league matches.

Defeat for Villa – they have just two wins in their last 13 matches – keeps them very much in the relegation battle, as they lie just four points above third from bottom Sunderland, who have a game in hand.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will also be relieved that the return from injury of Argentinian central defender Fabricio Coloccini saw the previously leaky defence succeed in keeping a clean sheet.

The hosts had the first chance of the game as Paul Dummett, also recalled to the starting line-up, set up Papiss Cisse and his shot should have been easily gathered by Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan but he fumbled it and it had to be cleared for a corner by a Villa defender.

Villa then had two clear chances to break the deadlock, both falling to Gabriel Agbonlahor, first his fierce effort was tipped away by Tim Krul and then his long range effort was on target but went over the bar.

Cisse, though, should have put the hosts ahead in time added on of the first-half as Remy set him up but he snatched at his shot from close range and sent it high over the bar.

The hosts had the better of the early part of the second-half although they had no reward, with Yoann Gouffran going just wide and Dummett sending a shot over the bar.

Remy, who Pardew will hope he can make his loan signing permanent at the end of the season, made Guzan work hard to prevent his sharply-taken effort not sneak in with the American goalkeeper turning it round the post to safety but he was not to be denied at the death.

Dutch striker Luuk de Jong saw his shot deflected and into the path of Remy, who made space and curled his shot past Guzan and then handed his shirt to a fan.