Carroll stinger gives Newcastle hope

Stoke City 1 Newcastle United 1
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The fog on the Tyne looks just a little less dense this morning, Alan Shearer’s second match as a manager having brought a first point. After Chelsea’s passing football last week, Stoke City’s direct style also looked like proving too much for Shearer’s team, but after being outplayed for 80 minutes they snatched an undeserved equaliser from the substitute Andy Carroll. That goal took them back above their north-eastern |rivals in distress Middlesbrough, who had beaten Hull earlier.

Stoke, six points ahead, should survive to fight another season in the big league, whether the purists like it or not. Their wholehearted approach in a game of six yellow cards and little quality was typified by James Beattie lunging at crosses and Rory Delap’s throw-ins with his heavily bandaged head, having been caught by a stray elbow. The irony was that they should have been undone in the end following a long throw by the opposition, which was not cleared.

“Too many times this season Newcastle have conceded and then crumbled,” Shearer said. “It was far from that today.” He praised Carroll for a “towering header” to equalise that the manager would have been proud of. But Stoke’s Tony Pulis, all trainers and baseball cap to Shearer’s smart dark suit, summed matters up well when he said: “Don’t anybody kid themselves, we were the better team over 90 minutes. The big disappointment is that when you’re on top you have to score. One goal is sometimes not enough at this level.”

Shearer had shown he was prepared to make changes, dropping the accident-prone Argentine defender Fabricio Coloccini and using three centre-halves. Obafemi Martins had rung the manager yesterday morning to say he had a groin strain but rather than pack the midfield, Newcastle gave Michael Owen an attacking partner in Shola Ameobi. Neither looked like scoring at any stage.

Stoke were unchanged, reflecting the confidence gained from two successive victories without conceding a goal and their play was further evidence of a side knowing exactly what they wanted to achieve and how to go about it. In the first two minutes, they had won a first throw-in for Delap close to goal and, as a result of the throw, two corners, the second of which Ryan Shawcross headed narrowly wide.

Ten more minutes, more corners and further trouble for Newcastle: James Beattie almost jabbed one in and Ricardo Fuller then headed Glenn Whelan’s cross over the bar. The visiting defenders did not win enough of those headers and they paid for it in the 33rd minute. There may have been misfortune in the fact that the corner awarded to Stoke should definitely have been a goal-kick, but there was negligence too in the way an unmarked Abdoulaye Faye, a Newcastle player last season, was allowed to head in Liam Lawrence’s cross.

Cue the first rousing chorus of “Delilah” from a delighted home crowd, officially recorded as the noisiest in the country. It is not often that the Toon Army are so comprehensively outshouted, but there was little for them to raise a squeak about until the last few minutes. Before half-time there was yet another dangerous header from a corner, Fuller’s being blocked by Habib Beye’s upper arm to prompt the first of two roars for a penalty in as many minutes. As the players left the pitch at the interval, Ryan Taylor (who had also had a missile thrown at him) and Beye accosted the referee and his assistant about the goal, but it was all water under the Trent bridge by then.

The hyperactive Pulis almost had two more goals to celebrate in the first five minutes of the second half. A good move along the ground sent Fuller away down the left to cross for Whelan to head, Edgar clearing almost off the line; two minutes later Taylor was booked for fouling Matthew Etherington and Faye met the free-kick with a shot against the post.

For a brief and belated spell Stoke were pushed back. One header off target by Carroll offered a warning and in the 81st minute he nodded Damien Duff's cross over Sorensen after a long throw by Taylor was headed out only as far as the Irish midfielder. The biters had been bitten.