Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
THE happiest manager at the end of the St James' Park showdown was not Kevin Keegan of Newcastle or Kenny Dalglish of Blackburn. It was a less heralded former Liverpool player, Roy Evans.
Evans, now in charge at a resurgent Anfield, will regard this draw as the culmination of a satisfying weekend. Of the the top five in the Premiership only Liverpool won and they are now two wins behind Newcastle with a game in hand.
Keegan and Dalglish were less happy. Blackburn would have settled for a draw in advance, but after going ahead on 58 minutes through Alan Shearer's penalty they felt they should have won.
Newcastle, who have now dropped home points to both Liverpool and Blackburn, ended the game grateful for the draw. Their equaliser, which will be claimed by Steve Howey, was a scrambled affair just two minutes from time. Colin Hendry, otherwise outstanding, unintentionally flicked on Scott Sellars' corner and the ball fell to Howey. His shot was cleared off the line by Jason Wilcox only to rebound into the net off the back of the Blackburn goalkeeper, Tim Flowers.
'We don't seem to get much good fortune at the moment,' Dalglish said. 'I am disappointed. We were a wee bit unlucky not to come away with three points.'
Keegan was more philosophical. 'We got what we deserved,' he said. 'We did not do enough to win but we did not deserve to lose either. I don't think either side played particularly well. We cancelled each other out.'
Newcastle's lead over Nottingham Forest remains what it was on Saturday morning. They are two points clear, with Blackburn three points further adrift in third place.
The game, despite the thrilling climax, never matched its advance billing. Both sides were below par. Although Newcastle dominated possession, the best chances fell to Blackburn. The most clear-cut came in the third minute, when Shearer headed wide from three yards from Stuart Ripley's cross.
Andy Cole, whose head-to- head with Shearer had been eagerly anticipated, responded by seizing on Graeme Le Saux's error, only to shoot fiercely over the bar. As Newcastle continued to press, Robert Lee found space to send a low shot just wide, Ruel Fox flashed a header past the near post and Cole shot weakly at Flowers. Blackburn, breaking, offered a rushed and wild drive by Wilcox after Chris Sutton had set him up.
Chances, yes, but the execution was poor and the unexpected - a goalless stalemate - beckoned. Then Wilcox, running on to Le Saux's long ball, was rashly brought down by Pavel Srnicek, the Newcastle goalkeeper. The referee, Stephen Lodge, who had a poor game, settled for his fourth booking and a penalty, which Shearer converted.
Newcastle at last roused themselves. Lee had a header tipped over and Peter Beardsley, who was later withdrawn from the England squad, hit the bar from 20 yards.
Blackburn, however, could have settled it. Srnicek twice redeemed himself with excellent saves from Sutton and Atkins before Lodge refused appeals for another penalty when Peacock brought down Sherwood.
It was a fortunate escape. Six minutes later, with Newcastle's first defeat in 14 matches imminent, Howey forced the equaliser.
In five meetings between the pair at managerial level, Keegan has yet to defeat the man who succeeded him as Anfield's darling. Of more concern to the Newcastle manager will be his team's failure to defeat the top sides in the Premiership.
Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Srnicek; Hottiger, Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Watson; Fox, Lee (Kitson, 77), Sellars; Cole Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Clark, Hooper (gk).
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Warhurst, Hendry, Le Saux; Ripley, Sherwood, Atkins, Wilcox; Sutton, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Slater, Pearce, Mimms (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).