Sporting a No 17 Newcastle United jersey with Smith on the back, Newcastle's new owner Mike Ashley turned up in the Middlesbrough directors' box yesterday afternoon. As a statement of Ashley's commitment to the club in the face of yet more rumours about him selling up just weeks after taking Newcastle into private ownership, it was as important as it was colourful.
What Ashley then witnessed was a thrills-and-spills cup tie of a North-east derby that ended with Sam Allardyce still unbeaten courtesy of the irrefutable law of the returning player: in only his third Newcastle game since leaving Middlesbrough, Mark Viduka came back to score a 77th-minute twinkle-toed gem of a goal that looked to have won it for the Geordies. "Inevitable," said Gareth Southgate, "and typical of Mark."
But as well as guile and style, Boro exhibited spirit here, personified by Julio Arca. Less than three minutes after Viduka outfoxed Jonathan Woodgate in the Boro area to steer a low volley beyond his fellow Australian, Mark Schwarzer, Arca did the same at the other end.
Arca's cushioned, accurate volley was directed into Steve Harper's left-hand corner to cap a grand performance from the Argentine. It earned Boro a well-deserved point.
This was Boro's second equaliser and Allardyce's tone was despondent afterwards. "It feels like we've lost," he said. "We let the opposition get goals, they didn't create them and that's totally unacceptable. If we are to be successful, then that will have to stop. Home or away you should never surrender a lead and we have – twice."
Allardyce lost two more players to injury – Stephen Carr (hamstring) and Peter Ramage (knee) – and said that may force him to be "more ferocious" in the transfer market this week.
Ashley has the funds required and his appearance yesterday tickled Allardyce. "He didn't hide away – did he? – wearing his Newcastle shirt." Allardyce has had reassurances from Ashley concerning the billionaire's ownership and said he, Ashley and the club's chairman, Chris Mort, were all working together. Ashley had asked Boro's chairman, Steve Gibson, for permission to wear his colours and Gibson was obviously in better form than when he spoke about Viduka's departure on Radio Tees.
"I've read comments that we left it late to speak about a new contract, but that's not true," Gibson said. "We spoke to him and his agent last Christmas and I was told very early that it was about money and that Mark would go to the highest bidder. The wages went up by many millions and I felt almost tainted by it. I felt very uncomfortable with it; I felt so uncomfortable that it was almost a relief when he went to Newcastle."
Gibson may not have been thinking that when Viduka scored. Boro have also had to deal with the late-in-the-window exit of Ayegbeni Yakubu. But Mido, on his home debut, showed there is new life and personality in this team.
The subject of chants from Newcastle fans that he did not consider "terrace banter", and which had Southgate mentioning "civil liberties", Mido responded with Boro's first equaliser.
Running away from the overhyped Steven Taylor, Mido collected Fabio Rochemback's inventive pass with a deft touch and then rounded Harper to tap the ball in. In front of the Newcastle fans, Mido put his finger to his lips.
It was the second of four good goals, Charles N'Zogbia having ended a tight opening 22 minutes with a charge in from left-back that climaxed with a right-foot curled shot that arced over Schwarzer. In the directors' box Ashley was giving Mort a bear hug.
Mido's goal changed the atmosphere and Harper had to show agility to deny Arca and Rochemback before the interval.
A fully fit Michael Owen might have converted a late chance. Owen was on for Obafemi Martins, who did not take his substitution well, apparently trying to avoid Allardyce's handshake. Martins walked straight down the tunnel and, if the right offer comes, out of Newcastle.Reuse content