Football: Only Shearer can stop Stevenage

Newcastle United 2 Stevenage Borough 1
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Newcastle promised to do their talking on the pitch at St James' Park last night. But the talk of the Tyne, as they not so much overcame as sneaked past the part-timers of Stevenage Borough in the FA Cup, was once again balls.

After the moral defeat Kenny Dalglish's Premier Leaguers suffered in the original fourth round tie 11 days ago, the Spalding ball was suggested as one reason for their failure to beat the GM Vauxhall Conference side at the first attempt. They prevailed in the replay thanks to the the Mitre ball: because it was deemed to have crossed the Stevenage line on the quarter-hour.

All that separated the pounds 34m team that beat Barcelona five months ago and the pounds 34,000 collection of teachers, barmen and fork-lift truck drivers was the less than clear-cut opening goal awarded to Alan Shearer.

It seemed uncertain whether the ball had crossed the line in its entirety as the Stevenage central defender, Mark Smith, acrobatically cleared it from under the crossbar after Shearer rose to head a cross from the left by Alessandro Pistone. But the linesman flagged and the referee, Peter Jones, awarded the goal that was ultimately responsible for securing Newcastle's place in the last 16.

"Some people are saying it might not have been a goal," Paul Fairclough, the Stevenage manager, said. "I can't say. But it's not going to alter what's happened."

Dalglish was not so sanguine. The talking he did in the press room afterwards overflowed with venom. "On the pitch Stevenage have been a credit to the Vauxhall Conference and to their town," the Newcastle manager said. "But off it they have left a lot to be desired. If they were a Premier League club they would probably have been up on a disrepute charge. They have been totally disrespectful to ourselves and to certain individuals. We kept our teeth clenched and did our talking on the pitch."

They did so, however, without eloquence. The flowing left wing move that yielded Shearer's opener - Jon Dahl Tomasson angling a deft return ball to Pistone - was a rare reflection of the gulf in status between the supposed aristocrats and artisans. Newcastle monopolised the first half but without threatening to bury the Borough boys. Then, after the break, Stevenage made their presence felt on the big stage.

The collective sense of relief was palpable when Shearer stooped to head in a Rob Lee cross in the 65th minute, but nine minutes later the 1,800 visiting fans were celebrating. Niall Inman's right-wing cross was deflected past Philippe Albert at the near post and Gary Crawshaw volleyed a reply that left Newcastle to rely on Shearer's debatable first goal for their fifth-round home tie against Tranmere on Saturday week.

"I looked across at their bench when we scored and I could see fear," Fairclough claimed. Dalglish demurred.

"Well, he won't be looking across any more," he retorted. "He'll be back in the Vauxhall Conference."

It was an appropriately sour final word on a rivalry that has festered ever since the Champions' Leaguers and the non-Leaguers were paired together in the fourth-round draw.

It was balls even then - pulled out at Lancaster Gate by John Toshack and a certain Kevin Keegan.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Pearce, Howey (Beresford, 81), Pistone; Gillespie, Batty, Lee, Beresford; Tomasson (Ketsbaia, 78), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Rush, Given (gk).

Stevenage Borough (4-3-3): Gallagher; Dillnutt, Smith, Trott, March; Beevor, Stapleton (Inman, 34), Perkins (Fenton, 70); Trebble, Crawshaw, Wordsworth (Thompson, 72). Substitutes not used: Cretton, Wilmott (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughbrough).

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