Dyer in tights as Newcastle put on pantomime display

Newcastle United 0 - Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Football

With the kind of tainted kudos that might accompany winning a House of Commons sincerity competition, or first place in a Royston Vasey beauty contest, Middlesbrough rubber-stamped their position as the eminent club in north-east football. In short, there has not been much competition for the title.

With the kind of dubious honour that might accompany winning a House of Commons sincerity competition, or first place in a Royston Vasey beauty contest, Middlesbrough confirmed their eminence in North-east football last night. In short, there's not been much competition for the title.

The Teesside club edged closer to securing a Uefa Cup place after playing a full part in a festival of ineptitude which underlines the current malaise the game in this region endures.

Sunderland have heard nothing but dire warnings of the Herculean task which awaits next season after securing their Premiership return. They will sleep a little easier after seeing their neighbours' limitations laid bare. Kieron Dyer refused to play in the corresponding fixture eight months ago. After the midfielder had exited early with the latest in a litany of injury problems, it appeared his 21 peers had followed suit.

A pair of Ryan Giggs-endorsed black tights clearly failed to hold Dyer's suspect hamstring together, and Graeme Souness, the Newcastle manager, admitted Dyer is unlikely to be seen again this season.

Souness said: "Kieron thinks he's damaged his hamstring properly this time and, if that's the case, we won't see him again this season."

Newcastle are without a League win since 5 March, and remain six points shy of bettering their lowest- ever Premiership haul. Graeme Souness has much to address in the summer after his necessarily young side, dubbed the teen army, failed to paper over the cracks of an unravelling season. In fairness, the hosts came closest to a seventh Premiership victory in nine attempts at home to their near neighbours, as the contest belatedly came to life in the final 15 minutes.

During that time, goalkeeper Brad Jones pulled off a stunning save to deny James Milner's powerful drive, but the Middlesbrough goalkeeper could do little as Charles N'Zogbia skied a point-blank chance in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

"We were the better side," Souness insisted. "We found another gear and bossed the second-half. Given the team we had out, I'm pleased because I couldn't have asked for any more from them."

Szilard Nemeth and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink spurned presentable second-half openings for Middlesbrough, who missed the cutting edge provided by Stewart Downing, restricted to a cameo role.

Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren said: "We matched Newcastle and had two glorious moments at the start of the second half. Hopefully this'll be a valuable point at the end of the season."

His captain Gareth Southgate will bear the scars of battle into the last three games after needing 10 stitches in a head wound following an accidental clash with Shearer. "It's a hell of a gash," McClaren revealed. "He really should have come off, but it would have taken half an hour to stitch it. We needed to sweat blood and that's what we did."

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2) Given; Ramage, Boumsong, O'Brien, Elliott; Carr; Milner, N'Zogbia, Ambrose; Dyer (Ameobi, 36), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Kluivert, Harper (gk), Robert, Brittain.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Jones; Queudrue, Southgate, Ehiogu, Davies; Parlour, Doriva, Boateng, Zenden (Downing, 66); Hasselbaink, Nemeth (Graham, 84). Substitutes not used: Reiziger, Wheater, Knight (gk).

Referee: M Halsey (Bolton).