Football: Fowler equal to Shearer's strike

Newcastle United 1 Liverpool 1

Newcastle will be seeking their first win in seven Premiership matches when Alan Shearer returns to Ewood Park on Boxing Day. The former Blackburn Rover scored his 13th goal since becoming the football world's pounds 15m man but it proved insufficient at St James' Park last night to haul his home- town team back on to a winning track.

Robbie Fowler's 104th goal for Liverpool, his 19th of the season, earned the leaders a point on a ground where they have not won for nine years, since Peter Beardsley and Mark Lawrenson were on their side. The result was more satisfactory to the latter-day Anfield men, even though they may have been disappointed not to have exploited increasing signs of nerves in the home ranks in the final 10 minutes of a contest that was always compelling, even if it never quite soared to the inspirational heights of the seven-goal thriller at Liverpool in April.

The consolation for Newcastle, who were 10 points clear of the field going into Christmas last year, was not falling the same distance behind this term's pacesetters. Seven points, even with a game in hand, will be difficult enough for Kevin Keegan's side to make up. As the manager himself duly acknowledged: "It keeps us in touch. We're not playing well but we can still win the League. I certainly believe that."

The Newcastle manager was in the unfamiliar position of watching his team play a home match as underdogs and he was confronted with immediate cause for concern as Stan Collymore burst forward from the kick-off and only an offside flag denied Fowler a goal in 10 seconds. The perceptive prompting of John Barnes and Michael Thomas provided Keegan with additional troublesome food for thought, but Newcastle had succeeded in drastically staunching the red tide before they struck the first blow in the 28th minute.

Les Ferdinand headed David Ginola's left-wing free-kick against the bar and Shearer pounced, unconventionally directing the loose ball past David James with his knee. It was typical of Newcastle that the assurance then drained from their play.

Steve McManaman, having been adeptly policed by Robert Lee, broke free to rifle a shot into the side-netting and Fowler twice shot wide when well-placed before finally hitting the target in first-half injury time. McManaman skipped down the left and squared the ball for Fowler to swivel and shoot into the Gallowgate End net.

Newcastle might have regained the lead three minutes into the second half. Certainly, Ferdinand could hardly have wished for a more inviting opportunity than that with which his striking partner provided him.

Shearer drew applause for the nonchalant manner in which he trapped a high ball on the half-way line and he followed up by delivering a first- time through-ball that split the Liverpool defence and left Ferdinand with a clear shot on goal. James saved that and then tipped efforts from Shearer and Lee wide as Newcastle built up a head of steam. It was Thomas, though, who emerged as Liverpool's saviour.

The man whose sharp-shooting as a Gunner was responsible for denying the Merseysiders what would have been their most recent title, in that dramatic Anfield decider in 1991, was stationed with admirable foresight on the Liverpool goal-line with 18 minutes to go.

His header stopped Steve Watson's chipped shot and Liverpool, thereafter, looked the more likely winners. Newcastle creaked nervously at the back every time the visitors worked the ball through to the threatening feet of Collymore and Fowler.

Roy Evans was content enough, though, to depart with a three-point lead at the top of the Premiership. "We're in the best position," he said. "To come here and get something is a good result for us."

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie (Barton, 90), Lee, Beardsley, Ginola (Clark, 36); Shearer, Ferdinand (Kitson, 85). Substitutes not used: Brayson, Hislop (gk).

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Ruddock, Babb, Wright; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Bjornebye; McManaman; Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Matteo, Berger, Kennedy, L Jones, Warner (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Last night's results, page 19

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