Another off day for Newcastle

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NEWCASTLE have had a rough old time of it in the Midlands over the past few days. They have been beaten at Birmingham and now thrashed at Coventry, with a player sent off in both matches. Yesterday it was the turn of Warren Barton to have the red card flourished with less than half an hour played; it was a senseless act of reprisal from an experienced professional who should have known better than to let himself be provoked by Coventry's Youssef Chippo.

NEWCASTLE have had a rough old time of it in the Midlands over the past few days. They have been beaten at Birmingham and now thrashed at Coventry, with a player sent off in both matches. Yesterday it was the turn of Warren Barton to have the red card flourished with less than half an hour played; it was a senseless act of reprisal from an experienced professional who should have known better than to let himself be provoked by Coventry's Youssef Chippo.

Already two goals down, Newcastle's ambitions to build the recovery that their slick play merited was torpedoed.

Barton's manager, Bobby Robson, said he was "very angry" with his player. "He knows he can't do that, he reacted stupidly, he has made a mistake and he knows it."

It was a nightmare return to the side for Shay Given, out since a knee operation last April. He could do nothing about the first goal, a fine header from Carlton Palmer, or the second, a long-range strike by Paul Williams. But he was culpable for the third, netted by Robbie Keane, which stifled hopes of a 10-man miracle.

In his programme notes Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, was bemoaning his shortage of strikers with Noel Whelan and John Aloisi injured. Who needs them with Palmer, a midfielder on loan from Nottingham Forest, and a defender such as Williams to fire home miracle shots.

Six Premiership away games this season have cost Newcastle 20 goals, an unacceptable rate of leakage. The irony was that they could have been at least two goals ahead in the opening 10 minutes, but for the sure goalkeeping of England's best Swedish friend, Magnus Hedman. Just as he had ushered his country into the European championships, Hedman denied Newcastle the lead their brightness merited.

Kieron Dyer volleyed just wide, then Hedman made a sensational double stop of headers from Alan Shearer and Didier Domi before again denying Domi's low drive with another great save. As Newcastle paused for breath, Coventry finally ventured upfield and scored. Domi fouled Robbie Keane and, though Keane demanded a quick free kick from Gary McAllister, the wise Scot rejected this option in favour of a measured cross to the far post, where Palmer's header was so perfect that Given did not bother to dive.

Nor did he move eight minutes later to the second goal. Again, McAllister provided a fine cross but this time Domi headed it away to apparent safety. However, Williams, fully 30-yards distant, swung his leg and a stunning, swerving volley flew into the netting for the goal of his lifetime.

Then Barton saw a red mist, followed by a red card from the referee, Alan Wiley, who had no other course of action.

There was just time for Given to make a back-pedalling save of Paul Telfer's header before Coventry were gifted a third goal. Keane and Mustapha Hadji worked a neat one-two but Keane's pursuit of the through ball looked hopeless until Given, coming out to smother, let it slide under his body, leaving a grateful Keane with an open goal. Afterwards Given said his knee had stuck in the grass, preventing him sliding properly.

It proved the killer blow, though Newcastle's 10 men battled so valiantly in the second half that Strachan spent most of it on the touchline urging his team to get involved.

Coventry lost Marc Edworthy, who was both booked and carried off after a reckless foul on Domi. He went to hospital for treatment on a damaged leg.

Domi, unruffled by that incident, claimed a deserved consolation for Newcastle nine minutes from the end, driving in a low effort which was too good even for Hedman.

But Coventry had the final word. Nikolas Dabizas was booked for a tackle on the edge of the penalty area and Hadji drove in the free kick.

"That last goal was an injustice and I have told the referee so," said Robson bitterly. It had been a hard day for the veteran manager.

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