Football: Gullit's song fails to please Toon critics

Newcastle United 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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The Independent Online
IN THE silence that these days fills what once was a hotbed of football passion, the sound of the pre-match music at St James' Park minutes before the teams appeared spoke volumes. "We gotta get out of this place," sang the Animals immediately followed by Dylan asking: "How does it feel to be out on your own with no direction at all?"

When the teams did appear to Mark Knopfler's "Local Hero" there were even jeers for one such - Warren Barton - and cheers only for a returning hero, Pavel Srnicek. The Czech goalkeeper hurriedly signed by Wednesday to deputise for Kevin Pressman, played seven seasons and made 149 League appearances for Newcastle, although the warmth of his reception suggested his frustrating eccentricities had been forgotten in the six months since his departure.

Ruud Gullit sensed the unease caused by three successive scoreless League matches and a mediocre dismissal from the Worthington Cup mid-week, on penalties by Blackburn. He accommodated Rob Lee, Didi Hamman and Keith Gillespie in a creative-looking midfield at the expense of David Batty. "I hope he was disappointed," said Gullit. He even got an early goal from Paul Dalglish - courtesy of a Srnicek's eccentricity - but still lowly Wednesday, with just one goal in their previous six games, looked more likely.

"I don't think we played bad football but we need to create more," said Gullit. "In midfield we struggled. We needed to hold the ball better." And so Batty, after just 34 minutes, replaced Hamann.

Alan Shearer's half-time withdrawal with a hamstring injury further muddied Newcastle's direction, although the striker's presence had served only to contrast his lethargy with Dalglish's energy.

"We had two or three clear-cut chances in the first half and it was a big incentive for us when we saw Shearer wasn't on the park," said Danny Wilson. Sadly, neither the incentive, nor the appearance of a bare-breasted female streaker, sufficiently stirred either side and the game stagnated into a stalemate watched in silence.

Benito Carbone, tricky in the first half, was substituted in 65th minute and expressed his dismay with a gesture at Wilson. "He has to appreciate that it is a team game," said his manager. "It was his first game in six weeks and he looked tired."

The fresh legs of Richie Humphreys brought extra running and Wednesday were rewarded 10 minutes from time. Barton debated with Laurent Charvet the merits of clearing a high ball, so Petter Rudi stole in and steered the ball home off Charvet's shins.

"We were fortunate with the ricochet, but that has been something we've missed in recent weeks," said Wilson. "We are not conceding many goals and in 70 per cent of our games we could have got something. That bit of luck could have turned the corner for us."

A final song in the stony silence summed the game up. "Where's your sexy football now?" asked the Wednesday contingent. In reply came a sad smattering of applause in agreement, and Srnicek was the only player cheered from the pitch.

Goals: Dalglish, 4 (1-0) Rudi, 80 (1-1)

Newcastle (4-4-2): Given; Barton, Charvet, Hughes, Griffin (Serrant, 45); Gillespie, Hamann (Batty, 34), Lee, Speed; Shearer (Andersson, 45), Dalglish. Substitutes not used: Harper (GK), Salano.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Walker, Thome, Hinchcliffe; Rudi, Jonk, Alexandersson, Sonner (Majilton, 57); Booth, Carbonet (Humphreys, 65). Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Newsome, Stefanovic.

Referee: Peter Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Newcastle: Batty, Gillespie, Hamann. Wednesday: Sonner.

Man of the match: Lee.

Attendance: 36,698.