Long before his five years at Newcastle United came to an end, Titus Bramble was regarded as a joke at St James' Park. When he rose tallest in the 89th minute yesterday, however, few inside the stadium found it amusing. Bramble's goalbound header was helped over the line by Newcastle's Damien Duff but it was Bramble's goal and he stood with one arm raised in front of the Leazes End drinking down a moment his all-round display deserved.
"Outstanding," said Wigan manager Steve Bruce of Bramble. Bruce was smiling then but he had just vented his frustration at yet another damaging refereeing decision, one that arguably denied Wigan all three points and which further eroded the idea of respect.
When Emmerson Boyce slid in to win a clean tackle on Shola Ameobi in the 53rd minute, referee Andre Marriner saw a foul where there was none. Out came the yellow card and a red followed. Boyce had been booked in the first half.
"A howler of a decision," said Bruce, "an absolute joke of a decision. We could comfortably have won the game with 11 men, we nearly won it with 10, now there's this stupid rule where you can't appeal two yellow cards."
Bruce went on but his exasperation was, he knew, pointless. Yet his argument was persuasive: Ryan Taylor had given Wigan a third-minute lead with his third goal against Newcastle in his last three appearances. A 20-yard shot. The lead last 77 minutes.
Wigan, despite missing Amr Zaki, Emile Heskey, captain Mario Melchiot and playmaker Jason Koumas, were more coherent than their hosts - it was first-half injury-time before Newcastle had a shot on target.
Chris Kirkland saved it.
"The worst start since I've been here," Joe Kinnear said. "We didn't play a high tempo, we didn't create much." Kinnear was subdued, he mentioned that Newcastle "got beat" and described Bramble's equaliser as a "sickener".
In the 75th minute a fan ran down the touchline to confront Kinnear and his complaint may have been that the manager waited too long to introduce Michael Owen.
That Owen had just missed a sitter for the second game in a row will not have escaped Kinnear who added: "The question is whether Michael can do 90 minutes. He's had numerous injuries, but he is getting sharper."
In his column in the programme, Owen wrote: "The manager has preferred to bring me gradually back in, which is fine - it's his decision - but it was only a small injury and I've been ready to play for a couple of weeks."
Ten minutes after the sitter Owen did score, following up a fierce Ameobi shot that Kirkland spilled and in rising noise Obafemi Martins then gave Newcastle the lead with a blistering diagonal shot from Charles N'Zogbia's pass.
Bruce's head was in his hands. But then Habib Beye conceded a corner, Daniel de Ridder took it and Bramble made his point with force. The last laugh and all that.Reuse content