Football: Newcastle fall flat again under burden of insecurity

Wimbledon 0 Newcastle United 0
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The Independent Online
A POINT apiece was far more than either side deserved in a relegation struggle which plumbed the depths in terms of quality and entertainment.

It was criminal to think that these two sides should have profited from this deadlock due to the reverses suffered by Barnsley and Bolton last night.

Playing Alan Shearer against as a lone striker, they had their first shot at goal in the 90th minute and that was a half-hearted effort from the England captain that barely had the impetus to reach Neil Sullivan in goal. At least Wimbledon had a couple of worthwhile efforts that would have beaten a lesser shot stopper than Shay Given.

The form of Shearer is as disquieting for Kenny Dalglish as it must be for Glenn Hoddle, the England coach. Our prime hope of success in France this summer scored one goal in 11 games now since his comeback from multiple injury. It is hard to pinpoint what is wrong, probably just an overall lack of sharpness which is only to be expected in the circumstances.

"One in 11 is a record he's never had before," Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, said. "He's usually got 30 goals by this stage. He won't see that this time but we're lucky to have him playing."

Newcastle had about as much chance of registering their third League win in 18 games as Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd have of being nominated Personality of the Year by the Newcastle Supporters Club. It is bad enough that Shearer should be in the shape he is without having to shoulder the workload in attack.

Newcastle's line-up smacked of desperation as Dalglish made six changes for the second match running, four of whom - Keith Gillespie, Jon Dahl Tomasson, John Barnes and Aaron Hughes - were dropped, although Dalglish denied that. Worse still was the loss of full-back Alessandro Pistone, who had left the field on Saturday at the Dell without any apparent injury. After his roughing up by the Dons at St James' Park in September, he was probably relieved to miss out.

What with Robert Lee and Steve Howey injured and David Batty suspended to boot it was hardly surprising that Newcastle should continue to look out of sorts. Matters were not helped any by the loss of Darren Peacock after 55 minutes with a calf injury. The chief beneficiaries of all this could be Sheffield United, their FA Cup semi-final opponents on Sunday.

With five out their seven remaining games away, including visits to such inhospitable places as Highbury, Old Trafford and Ewood Park, a dramatic improvement in their state of health could be a necessity.

Things might have been worse for Newcastle last night had Given not pulled off a fine reflex save in the 11th minute to repel a Carl Leaburn header following a corner by Neal Ardley.

Wimbledon had persisted with the same 11 bar Ben Thatcher, who had been denied a draw in contentious circumstances at Old Trafford at the weekend but it did nothing much for their rhythm or fluency.

Still, they produced what goalscoring chances there were and, only another splendid save from Given stopped Michael Hughes giving them all three points with a cracking 25-yarder.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Ardley, Earle, Roberts, M Hughes; Gayle, Leaburn. Substitutes not used: C Hughes, Clarke, Fear, Cort, Heald (gk).

Newcastle United (4-5-1): Given; Watson, Peacock (Barton, 55), Albert, Pearce; Griffin (Gillespie, 88), Dabizas, Speed, Hamilton, Ketsbaia; Shearer. Substitutes not used: Barnes, Andersson, Srnicek (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).