Football: Shearer shackled by Dublin factor

Newcastle United 0 Coventry City 0 Attendance: 36,767
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The Independent Online
THERE was no place for Keith Gillespie in the Newcastle team yesterday, not even on the bench. It was no great surprise. He had, after all, seen enough of Dublin in recent weeks. So, for that matter, had Alan Shearer. But Newcastle's pounds 15m man saw an awful lot of his opposite number in 90 minutes of deadlocked endeavour at St James' Park. Shearer was shorn of his goalscoring powers as Dion Dublin and the rest of the Coventry defence held steadfastly firm.

Shearer has still not scored in the Premiership since his return to action two months ago. His last League goal, in fact, dates back to 11 May last year and the 5-0 fiesta Newcastle enjoyed at Nottingham Forest's expense on the final day of the season. At least Shearer, as he strove in vain to end that drought yesterday, did not incur the wrath of the visiting camp for the third successive home game. Accused by George Graham of "assaulting" Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and by John Dennis, the Barnsley chairman, of enjoying a "World Wildlife Fund" level of protection from referees, the England striker was the epitome of good behaviour.

It may have been a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup semi- final at Old Trafford on 5 April, depending on Coventry's fate at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night, but Newcastle could not afford the luxury of treating it as such. They kicked off just six points clear of the relegation places, having won just two of their previous 14 Premiership matches, and they came tantalisingly close to settling their nerves with an early lead. The chance came courtesy of Gary Breen, whose ill-measured back-pass would have presented a second-minute gift to Shearer had Steve Ogrizovic's 40- year-old legs not been quick enough to avert the looming danger to Coventry.

Newcastle, though, laboured to build on that promising start. The pace and movement of Coventry's front two, the former Newcastle reserve Darren Huckerby and the Romanian Viorel Moldovan, posed increasing problems for the home guard, particularly with George Boateng prompting to good effect from midfield. The Dutchman might have won a penalty in the 18th minute, when he was sent sprawling on the edge of the Newcastle six-yard box by Stuart Pearce. Boateng's protests came to nought but five minutes later he very nearly exacted revenge, opening up the Newcastle defence with a sublime through-ball that left Moldovan with a clear sight of Shay Given's goal. To the vast relief of the natives, however, the Coventry striker missed his kick.

Only then did Newcastle start to show their creative colours. They did so with Kenny Dalglish's 14th signing, the Greek international Nikolaos Dabizas, on board. Replacing the injured Pearce on the hour, Dalglish's pounds 1.3m midweek acquisition from Olympiakos settled into the heart of the home defence with some assured touches - a veritable Dab hand. Dabizas and his new colleagues, however, were grateful to reach the break on level terms after Moldovan skipped past him and fluffed his second sitter of the half.

Dublin went considerably closer to breaking the deadlock six minutes into the second half. Unfortunately for him, he did so at the Coventry end. In stretching out a leg to clear an angled ball drilled in from the right by Alessandro Pistone, the Coventry captain merely succeeded in deflecting it up towards the top corner of the net. Ogrizovic, though, came to the rescue, springing up to palm the ball over his bar to safety. And Coventry were indebted to their veteran goalkeeper again in the 59th minute, Ogrizovic diving to his left to push wide Temuri Ketsbaia's low drive.