The ghost of Boxing Day past returned to haunt Leicester yesterday. Darren Ambrose, who scored Ipswich's 88th-minute winner at the Walker Stadium exactly 12 months earlier, headed Newcastle's equaliser just as the board was raised showing two minutes of stoppage time.
Adding to the spookiness of it all, Paul Dickov had put Leicester ahead midway through the second half, precisely as he had a year ago. The Scot's seventh goal of the season looked set to keep his side out of the bottom three going into the final game of 2003, at Bolton on Sunday, but Ambrose's first Premiership goal dropped them into 18th place.
It was an anti-climactic finale for the majority of the 32,148 crowd, who set an attendance record for the ground, and a frustratingly familiar one for the Leicester manager, Micky Adams. His team have made a habit of surrendering leads since returning to the top flight in August.
"It's disappointing to have come so close to getting a win," Adams said. "We've got ourselves into the position of winning matches so many times without seeing it through."
Adams said he was "not surprised" to see history repeat itself, yet added: "It's very difficult to be critical of a group of players who have given you everything. But there is no panic, from me, the players or the supporters. Two years ago we went down without being competitive. We gave up the ghost. There's no sign of that happening this time."
Sir Bobby Robson admitted he was "grateful" for a point from a match which even he, the eternal enthusiast, felt disinclined to talk up. "It looked as though Dickov's goal would be enough for them," the Newcastle manager said. "But I thought there was poor play from both sides."
The match statistics endorsed Robson's view. They showed that Leicester had only four shots on target - a modest tally, but twice as many as Newcastle, whose display scarcely merited the sixth place they now hold.
Until the opening goal, only the brutal shooting of Laurent Robert had kept spectators entertained. On two occasions the Frenchman threatened to emulate his recent long-range goals against Tottenham, one shot from all of 40 yards being turned over by Ian Walker and another from a shade closer being deflected for a corner.
The third time Robert bludgeoned the ball, it flew straight at the head of his team-mate Olivier Bernard barely five yards away. In a moment to remind us that it is the pantomime season, Bernard fell as if struck by a stray Aladdin's lamp and required treatment before resuming.
Leicester, for whom Gary Speed had come closest during the first half with a diving header that narrowly missed his own goal, went ahead in the 67th minute. John Curtis's long ball was headed on by Les Ferdinand, who was more effective on the day than his old striking partner Alan Shearer, though Aaron Hughes still looked set to head it back to Shay Given.
Hughes, according to Robson, inexplicably changed his mind. A moment's indecision enabled the waspish Dickov to steal in, bringing the bouncing ball down with his left boot before burying a left-footed half-volley from 15 yards.
Ferdinand had an opportunity to seal victory from a corner - Leicester remain over-reliant on set-pieces - only to head wide after Muzzy Izzet's kick found him rising at the far post.
It would prove a costly aberration as Bernard crossed from the left in the last seconds of normal time. Walker parried Jermaine Jenas's shot but only as far as the lurking Ambrose, who stooped to head home. "Olivier didn't know where he was for a while but he did well on our goal," Robson said, warming to a festive punchline. "I've told him he'll have to get knocked out more often."
Goals: Dickov (67) 1-0; Ambrose (88) 1-1.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Walker 6; Curtis 5, Howey 4 (Elliott 6, 17), Scimeca 6, Thatcher 5; Scowcroft 5, Izzet 5, McKinlay 4, Stewart 4 (Davidson 4, 69); Ferdinand 7, Dickov 6. Substitutes not used: Coyne (gk), Bent, Hignett.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given 6; Hughes 5 (Chopra, 87), O'Brien 5, Bramble 6, Bernard 6; Solano 6, Jenas 5, Speed 5, Robert 5; Shearer 5, LuaLua 4 (Ambrose, 87). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Woodgate, Viana.
Referee: C Foy (St Helens) 8.
Man of the match: Ferdinand.