Football: Glass shines on a grey Newcastle day

Newcastle Utd 1 Glass 66 Leicester City 0 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 36,718
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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE UNITED Plc may be an attractive proposition to NTL Incorporated, the American media group planning to assume control at St James' Park, but the half-term report of Newcastle United Football Club does not make pretty reading. Despite winning yesterday, for only the second time in nine Premiership fixtures, the falling football stock of the Magpies is evident in black and white: 24 points from the first 18 matches of the season. That represents a drop of two points from last year, when the playing department of the Newcastle United empire had to come up with a winning result from the last shift at the home office to avert the threat of demotion.

Newcastle's form has been not so much black and white as simply grey and yesterday they continued to look like a collection of individuals rather than a collective outfit - and a not particularly impressive collection at that. Thanks to a Stephen Glass goal 21 minutes into the second-half, they managed to give their supporters, corporate and otherwise, a rare victory to cheer. But they needed the help of a languid Leicester performance. As Martin O'Neill lamented: "We were poor today, really poor."

The Leicester manager was no doubt happy to find the sheepish Ibrahim Ba absent and still unsigned by Newcastle yesterday but his relief was probably tempered by reports that the financially challenged Foxes may bite at a pounds 5m offer from Manchester United or Blackburn Rovers for Neil Lennon.

It was never going to be just another day for Lennon, who could have been forgiven for losing his head, in the metaphorical sense at least, when the teams last met, at Filbert Street in April. Lennon might have decided to let it be, as it were, speaking in defence of Alan Shearer at the subsequent FA hearing, but the Toon Army has not forgiven the Northern Ireland midfielder for heinously getting his head in the way of the England captain's swinging right boot.

Lennon's right boot would have inflicted early damage yesterday had his 20-yard shot not been deflected wide. Even with Shearer starting on the bench and Duncan Ferguson flu-ridden, though, Leicester failed to punish a vulnerable-looking Newcastle line-up. A front-two of Andreas Andersson and Temuri Ketsbaia was not exactly the striking partnership Ruud Gullit hoped to field, but the strikingly indifferent Andersson twice went close before Leicester's one big chance came and went on the half-hour. Emile Heskey was left in the clear by Frank Sinclair's rapier-sharp through- ball but, to the relief of the locals, his attempted finish was blunderingly blunt. Leicester's chief marksman dragged his shot wide.

For a while it seemed the highlight of the afternoon might be Shearer's 55th-minute emergence from the dug-out for his first appearance in five weeks. But then Glass found the ball at his feet on the left edge of the Leicester penalty area, and his right-footed shot plucked three points from a turkey of a contest.