Football: European contenders revert to remote control

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Online
There was a sense of remoteness about this match. Two teams semi-detached from the top of the Premiership playing before an audience whose minds frequently wandered elsewhere. The indecisive outcome, which did neither team's European ambitions any good, summed up the afternoon.

The defining moment came in the second half. With Wednesday on the attack, the crowd at the rear of the main stand turned its back to the pitch. It looked like an imaginative form of protest - a backs to the ball statement about the quality on display - until a roar of approval revealed their attention had been the television sets in the executive boxes. Chesterfield had just scored a penalty.

Even Kenny Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, greeted the result ambiguously. "It keeps us in front of Sheffield Wednesday," he said, "and from that point of view it's not too bad. Aston Villa lost on Saturday which also helps us but it doesn't put us any nearer Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United."

Dalglish clearly still harbours thoughts of championships that have long been discarded by Newcastle's supporters. "I would love to win every game this season and see where we are," he said enigmatically; as Newcastle have won only once away since October, his hope is unlikely to be fulfilled. His team look destined for fourth place.

This match was almost a cameo of Newcastle's season. With Alan Shearer rampant they began well, scored through Robbie Elliott, and threatened to demolish their opponents. But they are used to false dawns on Tyneside and no one there will be surprised to learn that the opening flattered to deceive. By the finish Wednesday, who equalised through Mark Pembridge, had fought back off the ropes.

"It was a typical English game," David Pleat, the Wednesday manager, said. "Very hard, very fast. Like most English games it wanted someone to put his foot on the ball. I was going to say Peter Beardsley but it might get me in hot water."

The Newcastle bench contained not only Beardsley but Faustino Asprilla and David Ginola, too, but if that implied a lack of ambition, Newcastle quickly shattered that image. Shearer was just wide with a header after three minutes and had Kevin Pressman flying across his goal to save a free-kick 13 minutes later.

If there was a surprise when Newcastle scored after 34 minutes, therefore, it was that it was the first goal. Les Ferdinand flicked on a header to Shearer whose turn pushed Des Walker to the byline before he pulled the ball back. Robbie Elliott arrived like a bulldozer and when his first shot was blocked by Peter Atherton the rebound thumped into him and bounced past Pressman.

Wednesday had been disrupted by two fouls from David Batty that removed Andy Booth immediately and Des Walker eventually and, given the way the first half had gone there was little reason to expect a home revival. "I told the players it was a test for them," Pleat said, "and they responded very well." Atherton, in particular, as he went from midfield minder to centre-half and nullified Ferdinand's aerial superiority as a result.

With Ian Nolan also becoming accustomed to Keith Gillespie's pace and forcing his runs inside, Wednesday came to the fore through Benito Carbone who transformed from first-half anonymity to become the game's creative source. It was the Italian's run which brought the equaliser, twisting past John Beresford and crossing to the far post where Pembridge scored with a flamboyant volley.

Goals: Elliott (34) 0-1; Pembridge (56) 1-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman; Nicol (Blinker, 66), Walker (Collins, 41), Stefanovic, Nolan; Atherton; Whittingham, Oakes, Pembridge; Carbone, Booth (Humphreys, 19). Substitutes not used: Briscoe, Clarke (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Watson, Beresford; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Elliott; Ferdinand, Shearer (Asprilla, 82). Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Ginola, Clark, Srnicek (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Warwick).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Atherton, Stefanovic; Newcastle: Batty, Barton.

Man of the match: Atherton. Attendance: 33,798.