Football: Comic book defending by Newcastle

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 3

Leicester City 3

There were times at St James' Park on Saturday when it seemed Viz had not just sponsored the game but penned the script too. The invisible Johnny X and the blind Rex Findlay, both team mates of Billy the Fish in the fictional Fulchester United team, would not have been out-of-place in what could only loosely be described as the home guard.

Thrice Newcastle's defence vanished into thin Tyneside air at set-pieces. On each occasion apparently unseen Leicester defenders were granted the freedom of the home box to pick off the simplest of headed goals.

It could have been worse. At one point, after Philippe Albert gave a feeble impression of a covering interception, Darren Peacock looked ready to hang, draw and quarter his central defensive colleague in front of the Gallowgate End, the spot where public executions were once held in Newcastle.

And whenever Steve Guppy, who teed up the first of Ian Marshall's two goals and Leicester's third for Matt Elliott, prepared to deliver his inswinging corners the Toon Army took an audible collective breath of trepidation. Guppy was the player sold after three months at Newcastle because, Kevin Keegan said, he was overawed by the club.

The talk of the Toon lately has been Newcastle's firepower, or their powder-puff store of it. The concern now, though, having conceded four goals at Leeds and gifted three to Leicester, is that Dalglish's team have lost the defensive plot since their convincing early-season days.

Alessandro Pistone, who is expected to return against PSV, and Stuart Pearce, likely to be hamstrung for some time yet, have become as sorely missed as Alan Shearer and Faustino Asprilla. At least on Saturday the stand-in front men helped Newcastle strike at treble their previous Premiership rate.

Jon Dahl Tomasson was credited with his first goal since pre-season, even though Des Hamilton's goal-bound header in first-half injury merely brushed his chest en route to the net. Temur Ketsbaia provided the supply line, with his right-wing corner. The Georgian's blend of graft-cum-craft also won the fourth minute penalty John Barnes converted and delivered the clipped ball John Beresford headed in for Newcastle's injury-time point-saver.

The punch Emile Heskey - Bruno to the Leicester fans - attempted to deliver towards Albert left Martin O'Neill's team one man short deep into injury time. The biggest blow was departing two points short. Leicester deserved all three.

Goals: Barnes pen (4) 1-0; Marshall (12) 1-1; Marshall (32) 1-2; Tomasson (45) 2-2; Elliott (54) 2-3; Beresford (90) 3-3.

Newcastle United (3-5-2): Given; Peacock, Howey (Hamilton, 18), Albert; Watson, Lee, Batty, Barnes, Beresford; Ketsbaia, Tomasson (Rush, 75). Substitutes not used: Hughes, Crawford, Hislop (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Arphexad; Marshall, Elliott, Prior; Kamark, Parker (Savage, 68), Lennon, Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Claridge (Fenton, 87). Substitutes not used: Cottee, Campbell, Andrews (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing. Sending off: City: Heskey. Bookings: Newcastle: Albert, Ketsbaia. Leicester: Marshall, Izzet.

Man of the match: Guppy.

Attendance: 36,754.

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