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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. It was a satisfactory result for the Anfield men, not least because they were saved by the goal-line header with which Michael Thomas denied Steve Watson what would have been a certain winner 18 minutes from time.

The consolation for Newcastle, who were 10 points clear of the field 12 months ago, was not falling the same distance behind this term's pace- setters. Seven points, even with a game in hand, will be difficult enough for Kevin Keegan's side to make up.

For the first time since Keegan's arrival as manager almost five years ago, Newcastle lined up as underdogs in what was until recently considered a home fortress for them. That visitors no longer fear the St James' factor was evident within 10 seconds of the kick-off.

It took Liverpool precisely that long to reach the Newcastle goal. Fowler's header may even have crossed the line before Darren Peacock hoofed the ball clear, but the young predator had strayed marginally offside in anticipation of Stan Collymore's through ball.

From his seat on the home bench, Keegan must have been concerned by the nonchalance with which Collymore advanced unchallenged through a parting sea of black and white shirts. The perceptive prompting of John Barnes and Thomas provided the Newcastle manager with additional food for thought but at least his own players, while struggling to get a grip, managed a couple of threats to David James.

The Liverpool goalkeeper was no doubt grateful that Les Ferdinand snatched at the shot he took on the turn after nine minutes. The visiting supporters tucked into the corner of the Leazes End stand were relieved too, four minutes later, when Paul Alcock, the man in black and blue, judged no intent was involved when Keith Gillespie's attempted cross appeared to strike the upper arm of Neil Ruddock.

Liverpool's rugged central defender ought to have hit the target at least with a header from an inviting Jason McAteer cross but Newcastle survived that scare and, after staunching a good deal of the red tide, struck the first blow in the 28th minute. Ferdinand headed David Ginola's left-wing free-kick against the bar but Shearer pounced to sweep the loose ball past James, though somewhat unconventionally with his knee. It was typical of Newcastle that 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. Then Thomas fired a tame drive when well placed to beat Pavel Srnicek and Fowler twice fired wide of the Czech's goal.

It was in first-half injury time that Fowler finally, inevitably, hit the target. McManaman slipped clear of his marker again and supplied the ball from the left that Fowler sent into the Gallowgate End net with a touch more than his customary relish.

Newcastle might have regained the lead three minutes into the second half. Shearer drew spontaneous applause for the manner in which he trapped a high ball on the half-way line and he followed up by delivering a first- time ball which split the defence and left Ferdinand with a clear shot on goal. James saved it and then tipped efforts from Shearer and Lee wide as Newcastle gathered momentum.

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