Football: Newcastle frozen out as Toon Army turns on team

Newcastle United 0

Derby County 0

With all the black and white shirts and the temperature plummeting zero- wards, St James' Park was a veritable ice station zebra last night. The prevailing mood was suitably icy too.

Boos rang round the ground as Newcastle's increasingly bleak Premiership title challenge was kept off the rails by frozen points. They were, as Kenny Dalglish readily concurred, fortunate to get away with the single point that leaves them 14 behind Manchester United, due on Tyneside on Sunday.

Derby dominated the first half, controlled much of the second and deserved the win that would have taken them into the top six. Instead, Jim Smith, who was squeezed out of the manager's seat at St James' Park by Sir John Hall six years ago, was left counting two points dropped and one man lost.

Given the Arctic conditions, it was debatable whether being sent to an early bath was a punishment or a welcome pleasure for Stefano Eranio, the Italian having been deemed the guilty party in a bout of handbags at five paces with Philippe Albert in the 82nd minute.

The fixture should have been played in August but Newcastle were engaged in Champions' League qualifying action against Croatia Zagreb instead on that balmy late summer night. Sleet and an icy blast greeted the players when they emerged from the warmth of the dressing-rooms last night and, surprisingly, Paulo Wanchope was not among them.

The Costa Rican belatedly trailed up the tunnel steps in a track-suit, Smith having decided to start with his striking asset frozen on the bench. Instead, Deon Burton featured in the attacking triangle that troubled Newcastle from the start.

First Dean Sturridge steered a low drive narrowly wide, then the ubiquitous forward inadvertently botched a more promising Ram raid, getting in the way of Francesco Baiano's goalbound effort in the 11th minute.

Derby's injury-ravaged back line included League debutant Steve Elliott, but Newcastle struggled to pressure the teenager and his colleagues. Indeed, the only real scare for the visitors came in the 14th minute, when Stuart Pearce shot across Mart Poom's bows with a right-wing free-kick.

Derby held creative sway to such an extent that the Newcastle players were jeered by their own supporters as they laboured to find a way across the half-way line, let alone find potential goalscoring openings.

The one consolation for the shivering Toon Army was that Derby also failed to break through, though it needed a brilliant diving save from Shaka Hislop to keep out a fiercely struck shot on the run by Lee Carsley just before half-time.

Derby's swift breaks were a joy to behold - unless you were one of St James' 35,000 season ticket holders, that is.

There was a particularly sharp mass intake of breath in the 54th minute when Sturridge found Baiano lurking with intent on the penalty spot. The Neapolitan seemed certain to score but delayed his shot just long enough for Pearce to deflect it wide for a corner kick.

As the end approached, frustration crept from stands to pitch. Albert dragged Eranio to his feet and the pushing that followed ended with the Italian, already the recipient of a yellow card, seeing red. "I honestly can't see why Stefano was sent-off," Smith said. "He was pushed twice by the other guy." The re-match will not be long in coming, the return having been billed for Boxing Day at Pride Park.

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Hislop; Watson, Albert, Pistone, Pearce; Gillespie, Batty, Barnes, Ketsbaia; Tomasson; Asprilla (Rush, 71). Substitutes not used: Barton, Hughes, Peacock, Given (gk).

Derby County (5-2-1-2): Poom; Eranio, Rowett, Yates, Elliott, C Powell; D Powell, Carsley; Baiano (Willems, 71); Sturridge (Wanchope, 58), Burton (Hunt, 85). Substitutes not used: Solis, Hoult (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

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