Football: Hartson provides the brief highlights

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 1

Hartson 24

Newcastle United 1

Shearer 18

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 21,172

THE RADIO man from the north-east summed this one up when his first words to the listeners back home at the final whistle were "No injuries sustained".

With nothing to play for in the Premiership but everything to go for in the Cup Final next month, Newcastle are tiptoeing through meaningless fixtures like this.

Alan Shearer provided the only two moments of high involvement for the huge following of fans who persist in attending matches even as meaningless as this. First he popped in his 20th goal of the season to give Newcastle a lead which they managed to cling on to for only six minutes. And then there was alarm for his club - and for England's ambitions in Hungary this week - when he went down following a collision of heads with Ben Thatcher. But after treatment the Newcastle and England captain was back in a fray which virtually ground to a standstill in a dire second half.

Wimbledon still appear shellshocked by the heart attack which removed their manager, Joe Kinnear, from the helm. Though he was well enough to attend a training session last Thursday his team has yet to find the flow and threat which saw them challenging for a place in Europe not so long ago. They have now gone eight games without a win and collected a mere two points, though there was the relief of seeing their pounds 7m investment John Hartson finally manage his first goal since moving from West Ham last January.

At least Hartson put himself about, though rather too energetically at times and he was finally spoken to by the referee Peter Jones, the man who will referee that Cup Final. Soon afterwards Wimbledon withdrew Hartson, without much objection from the home supporters.

Ruud Gullit offered the 19-year-old local lad David Beharell a second game in the centre of defence and he responded with a solid performance, but up front, in the absence of Temuri Ketsbaia, who had taken a knock on the head in training, Shearer got precious little help from Andreas Andersson, who has a strange habit of ducking when he should be rising to head the ball. And he cost Newcastle pounds 4m.

Marcus Gayle had already struck the crossbar with a fine left-foot effort after a quarter of an hour before, in virtually their first serious raid, Newcastle went ahead in the 17th minute. The Croatian international Silvio Maric showed neat control out by the right touchline before threading the ball through to Dietmar Hamman just inside the penalty area. The German's short centre to the far post was made to measure for the waiting head of Shearer and he duly propelled it past Neil Sullivan.

There was a question mark about Shay Given over Wimbledon's goal in the 23rd minute. Ceri Hughes suddenly let fly from long range and the Newcastle keeper seemed taken by surprise, shovelling aside the shot but only as far as the looming presence of Hartson, who stuck it joyfully away.

Given also found himself stranded on the soft turf just afterwards as a Jason Euell effort trickled past an upright but it was Hamman who looked the lone participant likely to get another goal. Just before half-time, exchanging passes with Nolberto Solano, he drove in a 25-yarder which Sullivan was happy to turn aside for a corner. Early in the second half another effort struck Wimbledon captain Robbie Earle full in the face and he needed treatment then, just before the end of a tedious second half, the German cracked in another excellent shot which cleared the bar by inches.

At least he was trying to end Newcastle's dismal record of nine visits to Wimbledon and no victories for all those miles put in by their loyal followers.