Blues 1 Newcastle United 1

Last updated : 05 February 2004 By Richard Barker
John 90Speed 37
Match Report

A Gary Speed strike had given Newcastle the lead in the first half, but substitute Stern John's equaliser in injury time meant the teams left with a share of the spoils.

With David Dunn and Stephen Clemence both ruled out through injury, Stan Lazaridis and Bryan Hughes occupied their positions respectively. Mikael Forssell also returned to the starting eleven at the expense of John who dropped to the bench. Jamie Clapham was also surprisingly only on the bench, with Steve Bruce sticking to the Jeff Kenna and Olivier Tebily full-back combination.

The game had a lively start, with Clinton Morrison and Lazaridis lively for Blues, whilst Alan Shearer and Kieron Dyer kept Darren Purse and Kenny Cunningham ocupied with their very different approaches at the other end. In-form Laurent Robert struck a free-kick straight at Maik Taylor and Shearer headed just wide, before Blues hit back with Morrison just failing to connect properly with a Lazaridis cross, and then Hughes firing wide when well placed.

On 37 minutes though, Newcastle surprisingly took the lead. Blues had a free-kick in a dangerous position, but the lively Lazaridis hit a poor attempt at a centre, and the ball was cleared by Shearer. The ball went back to Taylor, who under no real pressure hit a dreadful clearance to Darren Ambrose, who teed up Speed for a superb drive from some 30 yards. The ball flew into the net via Taylor's left-hand post, and the Blues keeper's recent erratic distribution had finally been punished.

Blues continued to press, with Lazaridis giving Aaron Hughes a torrid time, and Morrison and Forssell both pushing hard. Forssell just failed to connect fully with an excellent Tebily ball, and Shay Given tidied up. At half-time, the visitors led 1-0.

Blues started the second half flying, and could have got back into the game within minutes if it weren't for wasteful finishing. Immediately after the re-start, Lazaridis got to the byline, and pulled the ball back, but Hughes' flicked effort rebounded off the bar. Then moments later, Morrison reacted quickest to a through ball, and whilst Given dealt with his Irish counterparts effort well, Damien Johnson lobbed the rebounding ball over the bar with an empty net to aim at.

Blues were now in full flow, and Tebily surprisingly was a menace from right-back. His pace and power were causing Newcastle all sorts of problems as he broke forwards in ways reminiscent of the promotion season. The problem that the likes of Robert and Olivier Bernard were having was that they could catch Tebily, but were just bouncing off him. One run in particular resulted in a good effort which was well held by Given.

As the Blues pressure mounted, with Morrison and Robbie Savage both going close, Newcastle threw on the returning Craig Bellamy to try and hit Blues on the break. In the last 10 minutes, the visitors did create opportunities following cut-backs from both Bellamy and Dyer, but Blues cleared - the ball getting caught underneath Jermaine Jenas' feet on one occasion. Blues were leaving themselves exposed at the back in the hope of grabbing an equaliser.

A minute into injury time, that equaliser came. Bellamy was adjudged to have fouled Morrison, and then the ever-bright Hugo Viana blasted the ball out into the stand. Referee Rob Styles rightly booked the Portugese International with a tendency to do stupid things, and advanced the free-kick 10 yards. Cunningham then drifted an excellent ball to the far post, where John was on hand to prod the ball home for his first goal of the season - as highlighted by his uncharacteristically excitable celebrations.

The result was no more than Blues deserved after a good performance. Whilst Newcastle players and in particular coach John Carver made for Rob Styles at the full-time whistle (quite why, I'm not sure), it's perhaps important to remember one of those great adages from life; what goes around, comes around. David Elleray at St James' Park last season, and the very same referee in Malaysia had both perhaps harshly treated Blues against today's opponents. Well, like I say, it all evens itself up.