Football: Newcastle haunted by word that Dalglish dare not speak

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Online
Simon Turnbull

Sheffield Wednesday 2

Newcastle United 1

It is one thing to accuse Kenny Dalglish of plutocracy, as Jeremy Paxman did last week. Bringing the "r" word to the attention of Newcastle United's manager is quite another matter.

Relegation never has been part of the Dalglish football lexicon. Even now, with his Magpies perched so precariously in the Premiership table, British Telecom's good talker cannot bring himself to utter it, let alone contemplate the prospect of its meaning.

A fortnight ago, when the possibility of Newcastle being dragged into a relegation fight was first put to Dalglish, he turned on the questioner and asked: "Have you been drinking too much over Christmas?"

And on Saturday, when the same query was raised in the wake of another defeat for Dalglish's troubled team, their fourth in successive Premiership matches, it was given similarly short shrift. "We're just looking forward to the next match," Dalglish stonewalled.

The trouble is Newcastle and their defensive manager cannot afford to continue on their Micawberish course for much longer. Unless something turns up pretty quickly they could fall into the Nationwide League.

They are already too close for comfort, just four points above a relegation place. And Bolton, the team third from the bottom, visit St James' Park this Saturday.

Newcastle have already gone eight Premiership games without a win. A ninth - with Peter Beardsley rising from the substitutes' bench to strike the telling blow, perhaps - would set the alarm bells ringing with an almighty vengeance.

Newcastle have not endured a longer winless run since the nine-game sequence that slid them into the old Second Division nine years ago. The immediate future, beyond Bolton, for Dalglish's side happens to be Liverpool away followed by Stevenage, famously away, in the FA Cup.

As worrying as another point-less afternoon for Newcastle on Saturday was the fact that they bore such a disjointed contrast to opponents who, though now level with them on points, still consider themselves to be fighting the relegation fight.

"I thought we were brilliant," Ron Atkinson said. "There won't be a better performance than that anywhere in the country today."

The truth is Wednesday only looked as good as Newcastle made them. They were gifted so many chances by elementary errors they ought to have buried Dalglish's disjointed side long before Jon Newsome hooked in what proved to be the winner, five minutes into the second half.

As Atkinson put it, when asked to suggest a more appropriate scoreline: "Di Canio about seven." The Italian lashed the opener after 50 seconds but then, despite dazzling in his blue and white boots, had 89 minutes of misfiring practice.

Newcastle, as is their wont these days, rarely showed as an attacking force. Even Jon Dahl Tomasson's temporary equaliser was a messy, scrambled affair.

Alan Shearer cannot come back soon enough for the free-falling Magpies. The problem is they look in need of more than just their pounds 15m man - like pounds 15m to patch up the rest of Kenny Dalglish's ailing side.

Goals: Di Canio (1) 1-0; Tomasson (20) 1-1; Newsome (50) 2-1.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nolan, Newsome, Walker, Pembridge; Alexandersson, Hyde (Humphreys, 85), Atherton, Rudi; Carbone, Di Canio (Booth, 90). Substitutes not used: Stefanovic, Oakes, Clarke (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton (Rush, 79), Watson, Peacock, Hughes; Gillespie, Hamilton (Ketsbaia, 79), Lee, Beresford; Tomasson, Barnes. Substitutes not used: Elliott, Keidel, Given (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Di Canio, Hyde. Newcastle United: Beresford, Lee, Tomasson.

Man of the match: Rudi.

Attendance: 29,446.