Football: Shearer ignores the terrace taunts

Watford 1 Ngonge 53 Newcastle United 1 Dabizas 59 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 19,539
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The Independent Online
IF IT was much ado about nothing on the pitch, there was plenty of meaningful action off it afterwards. Bobby Robson pleaded to Watford fans and all English supporters to leave Alan Shearer alone, after his Newcastle side had stretched their unbeaten run to six games, while Graham Taylor joined in what amounted to an almost certainly vain attempt to turn the tide of mindless behaviour and thinking that now permeates so much of the English game. It was altogether impossible to cast off the hangover from England's defeat by Scotland at Wembley on Wednesday.

If England's so-called supporters cannot respect a rival team's national anthem, after being asked to do so by Kevin Keegan, why should anyone expect the luckless Shearer to escape abuse from the foul-mouthed minority? The England captain was booed in the opening minutes, when he stood up to block Alec Chamberlain's space to kick clear, and at frequent intervals with a series of the kind of ugly profanities which have always been heard at football matches. But he just shrugged and got on with his job.

As captain of team and country, he does a solid, sometimes inspiring, job in a relatively dour manner. But never in a way that deserved the abuse heaped on him yesterday or, recently, at Arsenal as Newcastle demonstrated, collectively and individually, that they are responding to the old, grey, wise and wizened Robson's gift for football management. They have not won away from home since April, but they have not lost anywhere in six fixtures and have started to look like a team with shape and purpose.

Watford, by contrast, even with Gifton Noel-Williams back in the side for the first time in nine months alongside the home debutants Neil Cox, a pounds 500,000 signing from Bolton, and the former Paris Saint Germain striker Xavier Gravelaine, still looked a rag-bag of hopefuls and misfits fired by a passionate determination to deliver the unexpected. Taylor's team have now gone seven games without a win and look rooted among the dead wood at the bottom of the Premiership with little prospect of anything other than a long scrap for survival lying ahead.

At times it was end-to-end or helter-skelter and Watford might have grabbed victory with a late penalty, if it had been awarded when Marcelino handled in Newcastle's area, but the offence was waved away. Since Watford's goal was patently offside, as agreed by both managers, no one was making too much fuss afterwards.

Strong, if unpredictable, in the first half, Watford began the second with great fervour and took the lead after 54 minutes with a controversial and bizarre goal from Michel Ngonge. The Zairean striker was involved in both the creation and execution, but was clearly offside when he scored. Gravelaine began the move with a forward pass from which Ngongo's attempt on goal was parried. As the ball looped in the air, Noel-Williams leapt to head goalwards and Ngongo, virtually alone on the line, headed in. Even though the goalkeeper was out of his area and there was only one man back, the linesman kept his flag down and the goal stood.

Newcastle took five minutes to respond, but their goal was unarguably legitimate. A half-cleared corner fell wide on the right to Nikolas Dabizas who slid and stretched to steer a right-foot angled shot inside the far post from 20 yards. It was some consolation for all else that befell Newcastle including an early Shearer header, from a Ketsbaia cross, which thumped off a post and several reasonable spells of pressure. In the end, however, the lack of a winger to cross for Shearer meant a point was all they could muster or deserve.