Lisbon leave Souness on a gloomy high

Newcastle United 1 - Sporting Lisbon 1
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The Independent Online

In the week they had their Christmas Party cancelled Newcastle United again had little cause for a celebration despite securing the point needed to top their Uefa Cup group.

In the week they had their Christmas Party cancelled Newcastle United again had little cause for a celebration despite securing the point needed to top their Uefa Cup group.

After Craig Bellamy had given them an early lead, Newcastle allowed Sporting Lisbon to equalise with their one and only chance with another example of the poor defending which has led to talk of a crisis on Tyneside. And, by the end, having failed to take their chances after Bellamy's opener, they were hanging on for the draw which means they will avoid facing one of the stronger teams entering the competition from the Champions' League.

Graeme Souness' decision to ban a festive jaunt to Edinburgh may not have gone down well in a Newcastle dressing-room which has, in the past, rarely needed an excuse for a night on the tiles. But it was also one of the Scot's more sensible decisions since taking over from Sir Bobby Robson. With things going badly on the pitch, the club can do without the possibility of attracting further controversy off it. With just one win from seven league games and five games without a home victory, Souness is under pressure.

Newcastle's hopes of a morale-boasting victory were not helped by an injury crisis, which meant they could not even fill their substitutes' bench with the permitted seven replacements, Kieron Dyer's tight hamstring ruling him out just hours before kick-off. But they were in front after just five minutes, Bellamy heading in Shola Ameobi's flick-on off Titus Bramble's long free-kick, as Lisbon's defenders merely stood and watched. It was a simple goal, but it was an uncomplicated tactic the pedestrian-looking Portuguese struggled to cope with. Darren Ambrose blasted over from Robbie Elliott's long pass and Bellamy shot against the legs of Ricardo after Steven Taylor's ball flew over the top of a square defence.

Newcastle's biggest problem this season, though, has been their inability to hold on to leads and Sporting Lisbon equalised with their first chance of the game, Custodio heading in Martinho Paito's free-kick.

Another half, another story of missed chances and slack defending. And, although Ambrose forced two unconvincing saves from Ricardo soon after the break, United's efforts did not impress an increasingly restless home crowd.

Indeed, Lisbon - who needed a win to knock Newcastle off the top of Group D - might even have had a penalty, Olivier Bernard tangling with the Brazilian Liedson in the area.

It was a rare cause for excitement in a game, which, by that point, had begun to resemble a tennis match, such was the frequency both sides passed the ball straight back to each other.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor (O'Brien, 78), Hughes, Bramble, Elliott; Milner, Ambrose, Jenas, Bernard; Bellamy (Guy, 79), Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Brittain, Ramage.

Sporting Lisbon (3-5-2): Ricardo; Polga, Beto (Tello, 83), Enakarhire; Rogerio, Rochemback, Tinga, Custodio, Paito; Pinilla (Douala, 66), Liedson. Substitutes not used: Tiago (gk), Barbosa, Sa Pinto, Garcia, Danny.

Referee: P Allaerts (Belgium).

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