Dabizas delivers a deserved point

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The Independent Online

The points and the pride were shared, but it was Bobby Robson's Newcastle who won the artistic and moral battle at Vicarage Road yesterday where Graham Taylor's team, assembled from discounted imports and journeymen, found the commitment to hang on and almost steal a victory. But class was conspicuous by its absence and it may take more than determination to keep Watford in the Premiership next May.

The points and the pride were shared, but it was Bobby Robson's Newcastle who won the artistic and moral battle at Vicarage Road yesterday where Graham Taylor's team, assembled from discounted imports and journeymen, found the commitment to hang on and almost steal a victory. But class was conspicuous by its absence and it may take more than determination to keep Watford in the Premiership next May.

Since both sides need wins to climb out of the relegation zone, it was a disappointing outcome, but no one could complain at the effort from the players. It was end-to-end and helter-skelter and Watford might have had a late penalty when Marcelino handled in Newcastle's area, but the offence was waved away.

Given their lowly positions, both sides started with confidence and intent. Both Taylor and Robson favour an attacking approach and their teams reflected this. Watford, with Gifton Noel-Williams back for his first start in nine months and both Neil Cox and Xavier Gravelaine, a midweek signing on a free transfer from Paris Saint Germain, making home debuts, were certainly in need of a result - if not a performance - to keep intact their followers' consistent faith in the unexpected. One point from 18 told its own pre-match story.

Newcastle, in search of their first away win since April in the Premiership, had their own reasons to shine, if possible, to maintain the early optimism of the Robson regime. But the continuing absence of Duncan Ferguson, in attack, required Alan Shearer to soldier another England-style lone furrow for most of the afternoon. As at Wembley, on Wednesday night, he was often left chasing shadows as, despite plentiful early possession, Newcastle struggled to take a grip of an open game.

Yet it was the England captain who had the best chance of the first half when he was unlucky not to score, his 26th-minute header cannoning off Alec Chamberlain's right post after Temuri Ketsbaia had crossed from the left. The Georgian striker had come on as an early substitute after nine minutes for Kevin Gallacher, who succumbed to what looked like a hamstring strain.

Silvio Maric was also out of luck with a well-struck shot after 17 minutes when, latching on to a header from Gary Speed, he fired past the goalkeeper only for the ball to rebound off Charlie Miller, who was back defending following a corner. The Scottish midfielder showed plenty of more typical creative flourishes, too, and must have been as frustrated as anyone when his through ball, followed by a good lay-off by Michel Ngonge, saw Gravelaine blaze over the bar from 15 yards.

Having replaced Clint Easton with Adrian Bakalli, shortly before the interval, Watford began the second half with even greater fervour and took the lead after 54 minutes with a controversial and bizarre goal from Ngonge. The Zairean striker was involved in both the creation and execution, but was clearly offside when he scored.

Gravelaine began the move with a long forward pass on the left from which Ngongo's attempt on goal produced a parried save. The ball curved in the air, Noel-Williams leapt to head goalwards and Ngongo, virtually alone on the line, headed in, but the linesman kept his flag down and the goal stood.

Newcastle took only five minutes to respond and their goal was legitimate. A half-cleared corner fell wide on the right close to Nikolas Dabizas, who slid and stretched to steer a right-footed angled shot across the goal and inside the far post from 20 yards. It was his first strike of the season and ensured a desperate finale in which Newcastle showed their teeth, but lacked the sharpness to cut through a stodgy defence.

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