They take their local rivalry seriously in the North-east and it was therefore a matter of great pride to the 3,000 Teessiders at St James' Park yesterday, and to the 7,000 gathered in front of the big screen at the Riverside Stadium, that the Premiership table confirmed the existence of a Newcastle under Boro after the 103rd Tyne-Tees derby.
A 63rd-minute penalty scored by Alan Shearer in his 100th game for Newcastle United denied Middlesbrough their first win on Tyneside since Boxing Day 1991. But Bryan Robson's side are still six points above them. Not that any great disparity was evident in a local dispute which - Robbie Mustoe's opening goal apart - lamentably lacked class and distinction.
Such has been the intensity of team-building on the banks of the Tyne and the Tees, only two survived in each squad from the last St James' Park meeting the season before last: Robert Lee, Warren Barton, Robbie Mustoe and Steve Vickers.
Both clubs, however, remain in the construction process, Ruud Gullit having been simultaneously preparing his players for the FA Cup Final and lining up signings to replace them. The expected summer arrivals include the Dynamo Kiev right-back Oleg Luzhnyi, who had been on Robson's wanted list until Gullit negotiated a pre-contract agreement last week.
Newcastle's line-up was bolstered by the return of another player who spurned Robson to settle on Tyneside, but Duncan Ferguson, starting his first Premiership match this year, might as well have spent the first 29 minutes in the Milburn Stand.
It took his colleagues that long to provide him with something more than scraps of possession, though the towering Dundonian ought to have devoured the header Alan Shearer laid on his plate. At least the missed opportunity stirred Newcastle, and the game, to life.
It had been played at a plodding pace until then, enlivened by one half- chance, squandered by Boro's Mark Summerbell in ambitiously attempting a Kanu-copy finish to Robbie Stockdale's low cross from the right.
But Newcastle, now in nose-bleed territory, tested Mark Schwarzer twice before half-time, Gary Speed firing into the Australian goalkeeper's arms after scything through the defence with a wall-pass which Ferguson returned, and Shearer blasting a 20-yard free-kick.
Schwarzer had to get down smartly to Shearer's header in the opening minute of the second half, but Middlesbrough enjoyed the better of the early exchanges after the break. They even forced a save from Steve Harper. The Newcastle keeper was a spectator in the first-half but his reflexes were in working order as Gary Pallister got his head to a free-kick hoisted from deep on the right by Mustoe.
A Boro breakthrough looked increasingly likely and it arrived on the hour, Mustoe playing a one-two with Alun Armstrong on the right edge of the area before sliding a right-footed shot under the advancing Harper. But it was a short-lived lead. When Didier Domi was tripped by the over- eager Stockdale three minutes later, Shearer stepped up to punish the visitors from the penalty spot.Reuse content