Geordie Saves Toon Blushes
NEWCASTLE UTD 2 MIDDLESBROUGH 2
NEWCASTLE UTD: Given, Ramage, Bramble, Boumsong, Elliott (Babayaro 45), Solano, Faye, Clark, Ameobi (N'Zogbia 45), Shearer, Luque.
Subs Not Used: Harper, Chopra, Brittain.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Pogatetz, Morrison, Doriva, Mendieta (Bates 69), Cattermole, Viduka, Yakubu (Hasselbaink 74).
Subs Not Used: Maccarone, Jones, Johnson.
If the rumours are right, and Geordie boy Lee Clark saved his manager from the sack with a last-gasp derby equaliser against Middlesbrough, pehaps Freddy should swing the axe NOW rather than later so we can move on. Souness is shouting for more money to buy players, but if his future hangs on one goal ... what state are we in?
Substitute Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink looked to have tipped Fat Fred over the brink with an 87th-minute strike that had the Toon Army fuming. But we still don't know if it would have been enough to give the Jock his P45. Shepherd refused to talk about his manager, or the performance, at the end of the game. And news that Stephen Carr is set to hand in a transfer request after a bust up with Souness at the weekend shows that things are far from happy behind the scenes.
Nolberto Solano had fired the Toon ahead with a superb 27th-minute free-kick, but Aiyegbeni Yakubu's 53rd-minute strike had dragged the visitors back into it.
Newcastle were unable to take advantage of a series of second-half chances to win the game, and looked to have lost it when Hasselbaink slid the ball past Shay Given, but Clark rescued his side - and his manager - with his first goal for his home-town club since January 1997.
That might not have been enough for the Geordie faithful, many of whom among a crowd of 52,302 made their feelings known on the final whistle, but with Michael Owen facing three months on the sidelines, it might buy Souness a little more breathing space.
The Scot has suffered more than his fair share of misfortune during his time at St James' Park he has by no means had a monopoly on bad luck. Opposite number Steve McClaren arrived on Tyneside without key midfielder George Boateng, star winger Stewart Downing, promising full-back Tony McMahon and Brazilian Fabio Rochemback, and with £7.5million summer signing Yakubu having passed a late fitness test on a hip problem.
With both sides having had a disappointing Christmas - Newcastle suffered back-to-back defeats at Liverpool and Tottenham and Boro took a single point from home games against Blackburn and Manchester City - this was never going to be a Premiership showcase. And trust me ... it wasn't!
Boro had strong claims for a penalty waved away three minutes before the after Robbie Elliott fell on the ball in the midst of a goalmouth scramble, and the Smoggies were still wondering how Viduka had missed when Chris Riggott was adjudged to have fouled Shola Ameobi 25 yards out. But Albert Luque had earlier hit the post and twice failed to make the most of one-on-ones with Schwarzer.
Newcastle were very weak down the left and Souness addressed the problem at the break when he withdrew Elliott and Ameobi and sent on Celestine Babayaro and Charles N'Zogbia, and the move gave the Magpies a more solid look. Why he had Ameobi on the wing - and Luque up front - in the first place had many wondering what he knew that we didn't.
Solano struck a sweet free-kick to give the Toon the lead, but Titus Bramble needlessly give the ball away and Morrison exchanged passes with Viduka to escape from Babayaro and send in a low cross which Yakubu turned past Shay Given.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink arrived in place of Yakubu with 16 minutes remaining, and the Dutchman made no mistake when played in behind Jean-Alain Boumsong, sliding the ball beyond the advancing Given to make it 2-1.
But there was just one more late twist to come, and when Schwarzer cleared Solano's 92nd-minute corner to Clark, he fired a left-foot volley through a crowded penalty area to level.
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Go on, get vitalled!