Football: Boos and booze all round as Newcastle disappoint

Newcastle United 0 Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Online
IT WAS only a matter time before questions were going to be asked about the supposedly new Newcastle. They were duly delivered after 90 minutes of the same old stultifying stuff at St James' Park on Saturday.

When one reporter enquired "how disappointed" Kenny Dalglish happened to be after watching his team fail to break down a Charlton team reduced to 10 men for 65 minutes, he was merely posing the kind of question the disgruntled footsoldiers of the Toon Army would have liked to pose to the Newcastle manager as they left their boos ringing round the ground and headed for the nearest boozer.

When it comes to facing the press Dalglish has the unhappy knack of treating even the most innocent of queries as a verbal dagger to his very heart. When he asked his inquisitor to "spit out your dummy and re-phrase the question," however, the inscrutable one met his match.

"I'm not having that," the affronted journalist retorted and followed up with a frank counter-attack which left a slightly chastened Dalglish obliged to answer his original question - up to a characteristically obtuse point, that is.

"We're disappointed not to come away with the three points," he said, "but we're level on points with Manchester United and we're one ahead of Chelsea. If we finish the season like that we'll all be happy."

On Saturday's showing, Newcastle will be struggling to finish level with Charlton. They may have looked the part in pre-season, but in the heat of Premiership battle, against the debutants from London SE7, they looked like the same team that fell apart after beating Barcelona last season.

Though Alan Shearer had a sixth-minute shot cleared off the Charlton line by Danny Mills, Dalglish's team never seriously threatened to find a plot, let alone lose one. They had difficulty enough finding each other.

When Alessandro Pistone passed to Dermot Gallagher midway through the first half the referee changed his striped top. Not that it made any difference. Even when there was one red shirt less, after Richard Rufus was dismissed for landing a forearm smash on the face of Nikolaos Dabizas, Newcastle failed to find any cohesion. John Barnes, a half-time substitute, pulled a hamstring crossing the half-way line (someone suggested it must have been a nosebleed instead). And the mere announcement of Warren Barton as Barnes' replacement was met with an echo of boos.

It was that sort of afternoon for Newcastle, one from which they would have ill deserved the three points Pistone's 88nd-minute drive would have given them had Sasa Ilic not leapt to Charlton's rescue. That would have been an injustice to Ilic and his colleagues, who almost snatched the victory themselves when Steve Jones forced a reflex save from Shay Given with five minutes remaining.

"We're gonna win the League," the Addicks addicts chanted, though Alan Curbishley was happy enough with the winning of a Premiership point. "If we'd had 11 men on the pitch all game and got a point I would have been delighted," the Charlton manager said.

It will be at The Valley that Curbishley's team tackle their next test, against Southampton. For Newcastle, though, the questions remain. The biggest is whether Dalglish will still be answering them at the end of the season. Autumn, that is.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Pearce, Pistone; Lee, Dabizas (Barnes, 45; Barton, 68), Hamann, Speed; Andersson (Ketsbaia, 65), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Albert, Perez (gk).

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic; Mills, Rufus, Youds, Powell; Newton, Redfearn, Kinsella, Robinson (Mortimer, 81); Hunt (Brown, 28), Mendonca (S Jones, 61). Substitutes not used: K Jones, Petterson (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Booked: Newcastle: Lee. Charlton: Redfearn, Newton, Robinson.Sending- off: Charlton: Rufus.

Man of the match: Youds.

Attendance: 36,719.