Football: Newcastle stifle hopes of a First amendment

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The Independent Online
West Ham United. . .0

Newcastle United. . 0

BOTH sides were happy with a point, but the poor old paying spectator will have been disappointed with yesterday's frantic, fractious draw which served only to preserve the status quo at the top of the First Division.

Two teams with a reputation for playing an attractive, passing game set aside finesse for the afternoon and scrapped their way to a fast and furious stalemate.

Newcastle are left with just one win in their last eight matches, and that against Rotherham in the FA Cup, but they remain four points clear, and deservedly so on this evidence.

West Ham, in second place, are unbeaten in 12 League games, but they were second best on their own pitch, to the chagrin of Upton Park's first full house of the season.

Disgruntled East Enders will take consolation in a comfortable seven-point advantage over their rivals, Millwall, who are third.

Billy Bonds, the West Ham manager, saw it as a point gained rather than two lost, but admitted: 'The longer it went on, the more you thought it was going to finish 0-0.'

The omens had not been good. In the absence of Clive Allen, who was injured, Bonds opted to recall Ian Bishop in preference to Steve Jones, the young recruit from Billericay, who had scored twice in three games as Allen's attacking understudy. A five-man midfield at home told us all we needed to know about West Ham's attitude.

Newcastle, for their part, withdrew Gavin Peacock into a similar, safety-first formation, with predictably soporific results.

Martin Allen, the midfield rottweiler they call 'Mad Dog' and Kevin Scott were booked in the first six minutes, and a discordant note struck. It was to become a familiar tone.

The onus was on West Ham, as the home team, but Trevor Morley, their lone striker, was easily picked off, and the wingers, Mark Robson and Kevin Keen, got nothing out of two full-backs, Barry Venison and John Beresford, who belong in the Premier League.

West Ham had marginally the better of a pell-mell first half, Robson shooting straight at Pavel Srnicek from six yards and Allen twice testing his reflexes with drives from distance.

Newcastle were clearly the better side after the interval, when Robert Lee, Lee Clark and Peacock demanded saves of varying difficulty from the more celebrated of the two Czechoslovak goalkeepers, Ludek Miklosko.

Much ado about nothing. At no stage did a goal seem likely, as Kevin Keegan readily admitted. 'I don't think it was the game people envisaged it was going to be,' the Newcastle manager said. 'I was happy, though, with the result - and I think Billy Bonds will say the same.

'I don't think it's a fluke that we're first and second. We're the two best sides in the division. People will feel that doesn't say much for the First Division, but we cancelled each other out. It's not easy. If you think you can waltz your way to promotion you are talking Roy of the Rovers - and look what happened to him.'

West Ham United: Miklosko; Brown, Dicks, Potts, Gale, M Allen, Robson, Butler, Morley, Bishop, Keen (Jones, 59). Substitute not used: Holmes.

Newcastle United: Srnicek; Venison, Beresford, O'Brien, Scott, Howey, Lee, Peacock, Kelly, Clark, Sheedy. Substitutes not used: Kilcline, Bracewell.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).