Ameobi buys the ticket that lets Newcastle dream again

Liverpool 1 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Football

Newcastle United discovered their season, which had threatened to turn to lead, had a silver ending when they lurched wearily and unsteadily into the Uefa Cup. It is not the Champions' League, for which they had real aspirations until Wednesday, but at least it is Europe.

Newcastle United discovered their season, which had threatened to turn to lead, had a silver ending when they lurched wearily and unsteadily into the Uefa Cup. It is not the Champions' League, for which they had real aspirations until Wednesday, but at least it is Europe.

They got there by getting a better result against Liverpool at Anfield than Aston Villa did against Manchester United. But as they spent the last 10 minutes mostly under siege at Anfield it was a mighty close thing. So narrow the line between success and failure, they got there only on goal difference.

That difference proved to be an advantage of 12 compared to Villa's four, and their most important goal of the season proved to be Shola Ameobi's yesterday which ensured they got the draw that brought them fifth place and Uefa Cup qualification. Cue Newcastle relief all around and none more so than for manager Sir Bobby Robson, whose 71-year-old heart does not deserve such stress.

Liverpool equalised through Michael Owen and pressed hard for a winner but, in line with much of the season, disappointed by failing to deliver what they promised. Like Newcastle, they managed the bare minimum of their expectations by finishing fourth, but like yesterday's visitors they will know they need to do better next season.

"We did well to hang in there in the end," Robson said, lamenting that his side had to finish the season with four games in 10 days, "because we were bushed to be honest, you could see that. But we scrapped and fought and held out to get a valuable point. I'm delighted we're back in Europe again."

Robson's relief needs to be taken in the light of off-the-field rumblings at his club. Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, has criticised his septuagenarian manager and there have been rumours that Robson will be kicked upstairs in the summer. Given reports that there is also a rift between the senior and junior players and you can see that Newcastle is far from being a happy ship.

In comparison, all is sweetness and light at Anfield? Wrong. The normally urbane Gérard Houllier nearly went through the roof on Friday when he was invited to discuss the prospect of Steve Morgan, a multi-millionaire fan, getting a place on the board along with a 30 per cent slice of the club. "He doesn't know what he is talking about," was the Liverpool manager's scathing response." Yesterday, the Kop also had a blunt message in the shape of a banner that read "We want Morgan. No to Thai blood money", but as that was unfurled, a French flag with Houllier's name upon it fluttered nearby and later more messages of support for the embattled manager were brandished. Ensigns of the times at an unsettled point in Liverpool's history.

Morgan's criticisms of Houllier have focused on this season's record in the Premiership and questionable buying in the transfer market, but the Frenchman included seven of his purchases in an unchanged line-up and four others on the bench. Given that Liverpool had produced their best performance of the season against Birmingham with that line-up it was more a case of buy, buy from the manager rather than bye-bye.

Newcastle, by comparison, limped into Anfield deprived of many of their better players and with Craig Bellamy nursing a tender hamstring on the bench. But if their personnel suggested a dying cause their play had plenty of life in it and they took the lead after 25 minutes. Lee Bowyer beat Dietmar Hamann in midfield and a gap that had appeared in the home ranks became a chasm when Sami Hyypia slipped over. A neat pass into the space and Ameobi guided a shot across Jerzy Dudek and into net via the far post.

Emile Heskey swung and missed at the start of the second half and Jamie Carragher saved Darren Ambrose's header on the line after 54 minutes but the game ached for a touch of creativity.

It duly arrived 13 minutes later. Steven Gerrard, a colossus in the second half, curled a pass from the right beyond Andy O'Brien that landed with such promise, it required only a touch and Owen, who must have thought David Beckham had suddenly arrived on Liverpool's flank, applied it. "It was a great goal from two great players," Robson said. "I wish Gerrard had gone off at half-time."

Liverpool sensed blood, pounded at the Newcastle goal but could not quite get the goal that would have spoiled the visitors' day. "There's only one Bobby Robson," the Newcastle fans chorused as the results came in. A belated song for Europe.

Liverpool 1
Owen 67

Newcastle United 1
Ameobi 25

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 44,172

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