Football: Ferdinand's fractured season

Newcastle United 1 (Beardsley 83) West Ham United 1 (Rowla nd 23) Attendance: 36,552
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The Independent Online
It was a grey day on Tyneside. The mood of the black and whites matched the dull shade of the skies above St James' Park. The claret and blue blanket flung across the edge of the opposition penalty box was suffocating the off-colour hosts. Then, with 10 minutes left, Peter Beardsley performed the unstitching job required.

Shooting through the eye of a needle on the left corner of the area, the Newcastle captain salvaged a point for the Premiership leaders. It was a hammer blow for the visitors as the low drive sped through the overcrowded box and in between Ludek Mikloslo and his post. Newcastle had been running out of time, and ideas. The sucker punch Keith Rowland delivered in West Ham's one serious assault on the home goal looked like winning the points. Or so it seemed.

Beardsley's goal, his 200th in league competition, lifted the mood, not least his own. "He came in at half-time and said, `I'm having a nightmare out there'," Kevin Keegan later revealed. At full-time the Newcastle manager told his captain, and the rest of his team, to consider a point in such circumstances as a victory.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, though, their moral victory was achieved at a cost. Les Ferdinand departed from the fray five minutes before half- time suffering from what was subsequently diagnosed as a cheekbone fracture. "He'll be out for a month to six weeks," Keegan lamented. It is just as well for the Newcastle manager that his other England centre-forward, Alan Shearer, is on course to return, following his groin operation, at Chelsea next Saturday. Keegan must now deal with the obvious temptation of bringing back his pounds 15m man ahead of schedule in their Uefa Cup tie in Metz on Tuesday. He said however: "Chelsea is the sensible target."

Ferdinand suffered his unlucky break in the goalmouth scramble which followed Miklosko's failure to grasp David Ginola's right-wing corner. He crashed to the ground as Philippe Albert shot against the bar and heatedly disputed whether the ball had crossed the line.

West Ham were already ahead by then. Without five first-choice players, and handing the league of nations banner to Newcastle, who enjoyed a 4- 3 advantage in terms of foreign legionnaires, the East Enders were obliged to follow a defensive script. After weathering early pressure and frustrating their hosts, they scored out of the blue. Exploiting Newcastle's three- man defensive formation, their wing-backs clipped the Magpies' unguarded flanks midway through the first half. Tim Breacker floated a cross from the right and Rowland, hardly believing his good fortune, headed in at the far post.

Miklosko tipped over an instant response from Ginola. Four minutes into the second half, he applied the vital touch that deflected Robert Lee's 20-yard grass-cutter on to the inside of his right-hand post and, ultimately, to safety. Newcastle became increasingly frustrated as they laboured to create clear chances, and to stand up to the robust captain's role which Julian Dicks was performing for West Ham. Beardsley's strike, which gained a point, removed a furrow or two from the brow of his manager, who spent most of the second half, arms folded, on the apron of the pitch.

Keegan's relief might have turned to joy, but Steve Watson's late header smacked off Miklosko's bar. There was still time for Dicks to force a save from Pavel Srnicek. It was the first one he made in 93 minutes.

"It's typical of him [Beardsley]. He keeps writing the scripts for us," Keegan said. The West Ham manager Harry Redknapp was disappointed. "We rode our luck and it looked like one of those days when it all goes your way. But then up pops Peter Beardsley," he said.

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