Shearer saves the points

Last updated : 22 February 2004 By FootyMad

Newcastle United came from behind to win a scrappy Tyne-Tees clash against Middlesbrough at St James' Park and move into fourth place in the Premiership.

Steve McClaren and his team, who had led at the half-time interval thanks to Bolo Zenden, were left to rue a costly error from fit-again Ugo Ehiogu and a disputed penalty conceded by Gareth Southgate.

Craig Bellamy took advantage of Ehiogu's mistake while Alan Shearer coolly dispatched the Magpies' penalty to send Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle a point clear of Champions League rivals Charlton, with Liverpool a further two behind.

Olivier Bernard had carved out the first chance of the game just seconds after the whistle, lifting the ball over Danny Mills only to pull his shot well wide of Mark Schwarzer's goal.

With five minutes on the clock Titus Bramble, playing his 50th game in a black and white shirt, headed wide from a Laurent Robert free-kick as United looked for an early breakthrough.

But they were not helped by a heavy-looking St James' pitch, which was more muddy than grassy in many places. Unlike in previous campaigns United have chosen not to relay the pitch in mid-season.

Next Darren Ambrose, on his full home debut, shot over the bar after England international Kieron Dyer had found him bursting into space in the Boro box.

Middlesbrough's first attempt came in the 11th minute, but Gaizka Mendieta ballooned his effort over Shay Given's goal.

Play was interrupted seconds later when former Ipswich Town midfielder Ambrose clattered into Stuart Parnaby, but following treatment the defender - in at left-back for the suspended Franck Queudrue - was able to continue.

The game then lulled and Joseph-Desire Job was booked in the 21st minute for a foul on Andy O'Brien, but Graham Poll's whistle provoked an angry response from Newcastle skipper Shearer, who had raced on to the defender's ball, played before he was caught by Job.

There followed a series of fouls, with Mendieta tussling with Bernard on more than one occasion in a scrappy spell.

These culminated in Ehiogu felling Bellamy five yards outside the United box, and Schwarzer had to be at his best to tip over Shearer's set-piece.

Importantly for the home side, Bellamy's troublesome knee had stood up to the centre-half's crude challenge.

It was Bellamy's first home start since early October, when Southampton were the visitors, with the striker having only just returned from a lengthy lay-off following knee surgery.

Bellamy's return to the starting line-up at Blackburn Rovers had been marked by a bruising Lucas Neill challenge, which had seen him pulled out of the Wales squad for the midweek international friendly against Scotland.

But he had recovered in time to face the Carling Cup finalists much to Sir Bobby's relief.

In the 33rd minute the game was turned on its head by Zenden, who made a run down the right - latching on to George Boateng's ball from the middle of the park - and shot across Given from more than 20 yards to send the visitors into an undeserved lead, with Aaron Hughes caught out of position for the home side.

United had a great chance to equalise in the 42nd minute but once again Kieron Dyer's finishing let him down and Schwarzer was able to get a hand to his effort.

Dyer's last league goal had been almost a year ago to the day against Leeds United at Elland Road, and his shot showed a lack of conviction in front of goal.

The half ended after Doriva had followed Job into Poll's book, the midfielder being handed a yellow card for a foul on Bellamy as the pacy forward raced away from him.

Newcastle's fans tried to get behind their team after the restart, but the Magpies were still lacking any sparkle.

And Boro's experienced back four, with Ehiogu reunited with Southgate in the centre of defence, was holding up well to United's attacks while their forwards always looked dangerous on the break, though they were often caught offside.

For United, Shearer was well marshalled by former England team-mate Southgate.

But Boro had not reckoned with Bellamy, who was handed the simplest of goals in the 63rd minute to haul the Magpies level.

Robert broke down the left and his low centre should have been Schwarzer's, but Ehiogu deflected the ball to Bellamy for his second goal in two games.

Newcastle had their tails up and St James' was again alive, with Schwarzer next turning Robert's free-kick round his post.

Bellamy then forced a fine save with a first-time volley and Gary Speed was denied on the rebound.

Boro were all of a sudden on the back foot following Ehiogu's error, while Champions League-chasing United were back in control.

Bellamy was then on the receiving end of another heavy challenge from Ehiogu, but again he was back on his feet.

Mills' frustrations boiled over in the 73rd minute when he kicked out at Robert, who was running riot down the left flank, and became the third Boro player to be booked.

The right-back had been sent off at St James' two seasons previously as a Leeds United player, and the on-loan Mills was lucky Poll did not take a dimmer view of his kick on an afternoon of niggly challenges.

But in the 82nd minute Poll was pointing to the spot after Southgate, who had been so impressive, brought down Ambrose.

And Shearer made no mistake from the spot to end his own mini-goal drought, which had dated back to the visit of Leeds in early January, and send Newcastle into the lead for the first time.

McClaren then brought on Michael Ricketts and Stuart Downing, while Lee Bowyer made his comeback from injury for United.

And Michael Ricketts thought he had levelled seconds after his 85th minute introduction, but his header was ruled offside by Poll and Newcastle held on for a crucial three points in the race for fourth in the Premiership.

Sir Bobby Robson saluted his captain fantastic Alan Shearer: "We have Alan, the right man at the right moment, to take the penalty," said Robson.

"It's a pressure penalty, obviously - if he scores he's a hero; if he doesn't he's whatever you want to write about him.

"Not many people would have liked to have taken it, I don't think. There were lots of people with their hearts in their mouths.

"But Alan's Alan and he just had the courage, the character to stay calm, make up his mind what to do with it and not change it and put it where it needed be, which is hitting the back of the net."

Meanwhile Boro boss Steve McClaren could not quite believe what had happened: "I can't believe we lost that game," he said.

"I thought we looked in total control and didn't look in any trouble.

"We were composed, defending well and passed it well first half.

"I don't like losing football matches, especially when we perform like that and control a game like we did against a team who are riding high, have only had one defeat this year and have a great home record."