Birmingham City 1 Newcastle United 1

Last updated : 31 January 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Sir Bobby Robson was far from pleased with Newcastle following a controversial last-minute equaliser from Birmingham's substitute, Stern John.

The Newcastle manager did not dispute that Birmingham deserved a point, but felt referee Rob Styles had severely handicapped Newcastle in the last minute when he booked substitute Hugo Viana.

Viana kicked the ball away after Craig Bellamy had conceded a foul. Afterwards he told Bobby Robson that he had not heard the whistle.

As a result the referee moved the ball ten yards neared to Newcastle's goal and from Kenny Cunningham's free-kick John moved in to scoop the ball into the net for the late equaliser.

Robson said: "We had the game won. We only had to see out the late free-kick to have won the game to have collected three valuable points." Newcastle's coach, John Carver, was also aggrieved and attempted to speak to the referee at the end of the game, but had to be restrained from getting close to the official.

Birmingham, however, were delighted with the outcome after it appeared that Newcastle had been heading for a good away win.

Newcastle had taken a 37th minute lead with a spectacular goal from Gary Speed. They later defended in depth until the vital last-minute equaliser from third choice striker, John.

Speed, making his 399th Premiership appearance, emerged as Newcastle surprise goalscorer with a spectacular first-half strike.

It was only the Welshman's third goal of the season but for a long spell it appeared if it would be a match winner.

But Birmingham would have had every reason to be aggrieved with the result as they completely dominated the second half without being able to force United's solid defence to surrender until the controversial last minute equaliser.

Birmingham boss, Steve Bruce, who was an ardent Newcastle fan in his youth when he never missed a single home game for four seasons, produced the masterstroke when he sent on John in place of the struggling Damien Johnson.

Bruce said: "It was a great result to get a draw and I'm particularly pleased for Stern John. He came off the substitutes bench to get a fine equaliser. Yet again he has proved his worth.

"I thought we played well and fully deserved the draw despite the equaliser coming so late in the game." Birmingham, who had been looking to complete the double over Newcastle following their 1-0 success last August at St James' Park, demonstrated they are now rapidly becoming an established Premiership side.

To their credit they came back strongly following their lacklustre performance in the FA Cup against bottom of the table Wimbledon last week. They lifted their game but could not find the cutting edge to dominate the Magpies.

The recently much maligned Robson, meanwhile, has had a rough ride over the past fortnight following the departures of Carl Cort and Nolberto Solano, but he was again in good form after the Birmingham game and expressed the view that United are still on course for a top-four finish.

As highlighted against Birmingham, however, there is still a bit too much hit and miss at the present time, but United are always a side who demands respect.

This was shown in a game of contrasting fortunes as Newcastle repeatedly ran up against a dogged Birmingham defence in the first half and in the second half had to survive an unrelenting barrage of attacks from the Midland side.

United, only twice beaten away from home in the Premiership this season, were razor sharp from the start and a direct free-kick from Laurent Robert found a gap in the defensive wall and had to be saved by Maik Taylor.

Immediately afterwards Andy O'Brien was quick to check the danger of Mikael Forssell on the edge of the penalty area.

The move gave Birmingham the encouragement required to take the game to Newcastle and Forssell put Bryan Hughes in possession, but he lofted his effort over the bar.

United's defence was under considerable pressure in this spell and Clinton Morrison struggled to bring down a high bouncing ball and as a result his shot lacked power to really trouble Shay Given.

The feature of Newcastle's defensive work was the solid performance of Jonathan Woodgate. The former Leeds player operated with a maturity which accorded Forssell few opportunities to shine on his recall to the side.

Forssell wasted the best opportunity in the 27th minute when he misjudged a swirling cross from Olivier Tebily. The on-loan striker appeared to hesitate as if expecting a challenge and subsequently the ball went through unchecked to a relieved Given.

Referee Styles, who has issued 43 yellow and seven red cards this season, had no hesitation in booking Olivier Bernard for a foul on Damien Johnson - United's first booking in nine games.

From the free-kick United made a quick clearance and the ball ran loose to Taylor. His poor clearance led to Speed giving United the lead in the 37th minute with a spectacular 30-yard shot which swerved past the bemused Taylor.

But Newcastle rode their luck particularly at the start of the second half when Birmingham had two fine opportunities to have at least equalised.

In the first minute Morrison worked his way in from the left and put in a low cross which Hughes chipped over the bar from close range.

A bad pass back by Woodgate lacked pace and Given hastily cleared as Morrison closed in.

The ball only went to Damien Johnson who, with Given stranded, lofted the ball over the bar in the high wind.

Birmingham played with vigour and determination as United mounted a backs to the wall survival fight as the conditions deteriorated.

The result was that Newcastle could not produce a single shot on or off target in the second half which was in complete contrast to their first-half display.

They even sent on Craig Bellamy in the closing 15 minutes, but this did not make any difference as Birmingham continued to hold the upper hand.

They were suitably rewarded with John's late equaliser leaving Newcastle bitterly disappointed with the outcome.