Ameobi winner nudges McClaren towards crisis

Middlesbrough 0 Newcastle United 1
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The Independent Football

Carefully and unspectacularly, Newcastle continued the rebuilding of their season with a victory founded on hard graft at the Riverside Stadium yesterday, snatching a goal in a first half dominated by the home side and then defending it for all they were worth.

It was only a second win in the Premiership so far for Sir Bobby Robson's troubled side, a first away from home, but it comes in a sequence of three consecutive 1-0 wins, the victory over NAC Breda in Holland included.

"It wasn't pretty, it was one of those 'over my dead body' performances that you need from time to time," Robson said. "It was a massive win for us, because whoever did win this game was going to get a big boost in the League.

"We haven't turned the corner yet because we are still in the bottom half of the table, but it was another win, and wins build your confidence."

Shola Ameobi's goal, his first of the season, proved enough to take the points back to Tyneside and leave Middlesbrough to deal with the hint of a crisis as they slip into the bottom three. Beaten four times at home now, Middlesbrough could not crack Newcastle even with the imagination of Gaizka Mendieta adorning midfield. The Spaniard was stifled by Olivier Bernard on the right and shackled by Gary Speed and Jermaine Jenas when he moved into the centre.

Steve McClaren, however, was unmoved. "You don't dominate games as we have done against Chelsea and now Newcastle without being a very good team, and it is a matter now of holding our nerve," the Middlesbrough manager said. "If we were playing badly and not creating chances, then I'd be concerned."

Indeed, Mendieta could have made a stunning impact here but for the agility and reactions of Shay Given, who pulled off the first of several crucial saves in the second minute as Mendieta met a cross from Danny Mills with a powerful header. This was to spark an exciting opening 20 minutes from the home side, in which Given had to respond again to keep out Szilard Nemeth, Speed earned a caution for a shot-stopping foul on Malcolm Christie, and Doriva drew another save from Given.

It came as a surprise to the home side, therefore, to go behind to a goal resulting from Newcastle's first attack. Lee Bowyer's cross from the left looked to have gone too far beyond the far post, but Alan Shearer managed to head it back into the centre, where Middlesbrough's defence got themselves into a fearful mess, allowing Speed to chest the ball down and Ameobi to sweep it past Mark Schwarzer without obstruction.

Newcastle's back four continued to be the busier, but the home side ended the first half frustrated, particularly after Franck Queudrue saw a header saved one-handed by Given and his follow-up deflected for a corner in the final minute.

Those frustrations only increased, with the game an hour old, as Bernard was given the benefit of the doubt when Nemeth's attempted cross clearly struck his hand inside the penalty area. But Newcastle deserved credit for their defending, not least from Titus Bramble, whose anticipation repeatedly enabled him to break up attacks.

McClaren's response was to replace Nemeth, Doriva and Boudewijn Zenden with Massimo Maccarone, Juninho and Jonathan Greening in the hope of prising apart Newcastle's grip. But though Juninho added some creativity, Maccarone was contained as well as Nemeth had been, and Middlesbrough's only late chance was a header that Queudrue directed wide.

Middlesbrough 0 Newcastle United 1
Ameobi 21

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 34,081