Football: Shearer strikes and all is for Given

Newcastle United 2 Speed 48, Shearer 69 Crystal Palace 1 Bradbury 18 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 36,536
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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE United may have clumsily mislaid the allure they possessed under Kevin Keegan but such handsome practices cannot be shed altogether. Without quite beginning the last 12 months of the Millennium by rolling back the years they produced a spirited and zestful exhibition at St James' Park yesterday to progress to the FA Cup fourth round.

Reduced to 10 men with the match barely a quarter of an hour old, and a goal down three minutes later, Newcastle responded with determined attacking football. It may have lacked the finesse of yore, it may not have entered the realms of sexiness espoused by their manager Ruud Gullit, but it was as committed as it was purposeful. Crystal Palace, lacking much real class, tried desperately to hang on but as soon as Newcastle equalised early in the second half there was only one likely winner.

Newcastle duly obliged with all of 20 minutes left. The entire match was defined by the dismissal of Newcastle's goalkeeper, Shay Given, after 14 minutes. Newcastle's defence was caught flat-footed after a long, long ball from deep in the Palace defence found Fan Zhiyi. He was clear and running on goal. Given left his line, raced from the area and knocked the ball away. Unfortunately, the assistant referee decreed that he had used his hand to do so.

The referee Mike Reed had no option after consultation but to issue a red card in such circumstances, though the crowd were incensed. Immediately, Newcastle replaced the midfield player Stephen Glass with the substitute goalkeeper Steve Harper. "I thought the crowd acted as our 11th man today," Gullit said later. "They gave us a tremendous lift and we might not have done it without them."

True enough perhaps, for these fans' traditional fervour, muted of late, was stoked by their anger. Not that it worked straightaway. Newcastle had regrouped but they were still in disarray when Clinton Morrison swept down the right. Lee Bradbury, unmarked at the far post, headed the goal. Newcastle had no choice now. They had to attack and did so with a will. They were not swiftly rewarded. Warren Barton's cross from the left after a trickly little run which epitomised a gritty performance, eluded three forwards. Dietmar Hamann's long-range shot seemed to be dipping towards goal but only found the top of the goal net. Perhaps their best chance of the first half came when Gary Speed's shot on the run was tipped over by Kevin Miller. Speed, however, was not to be denied. Barely three second- half minutes had gone when Barton's free-kick was delicately chested on by Alan Shearer. Speed's drive easily evaded Miller this time.

There was time for Mr Reed to rehearse his yellow card routine some more (he issued seven in all) and to be involved in an altercation with the Palace manager, Terry Venables, on the touchline.

This could not deflect attention from Newcastle. Barton and Andreas Andersson did good work down the left and Shearer was lurking in the middle. He did not make the cleanest of contacts but it was sufficiently accurate to yield his first goal since November.

This had wider repercussions as Venables hinted afterwards. Shearer, he said, was the only one who had really troubled his defenders. "I laugh when people say he's finished. His repeated comebacks from injuries have been nothing short of miraculous." Yes, but was he as good now as before the injuries? Yes, said Venables. Maybe, maybe not. But he will be operating without his new partner Duncan Ferguson, who needs a hernia operation, for at least two months, and more resolute defences lie in wait.