Middlesbrough handed point by Hasselbaink

Middlesbrough 2 - Newcastle United 2
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The Independent Online

There is no reason why a happy team should be a successful one. When Mike Brearley turned Middlesex into county cricket champions it was in a dressing-room where the energy derived from personal antagonisms. Johan Cruyff's golden time as Barcelona coach that ended with the Catalans winning the European Cup began with Gary Lineker and others isolated and deeply unhappy.

There is no reason why a happy team should be a successful one. When Mike Brearley turned Middlesex into county cricket champions it was in a dressing-room where the energy derived from personal antagonisms. Johan Cruyff's golden time as Barcelona coach that ended with the Catalans winning the European Cup began with Gary Lineker and others isolated and deeply unhappy.

As England manager, Kevin Keegan had his race nights, his card schools and his team-bonding sessions, while the separate Manchester United dinner table was abolished. England still performed abysmally.

It is in that context that the story of the latest off-field "crisis" at Newcastle ought to be judged, especially since on Saturday evening they actually played well in an entertaining North-East derby.

Stories that Kieron Dyer was dropped to the bench for refusing to play on the right wing were dismissed as "utter rubbish" by his manager, Sir Bobby Robson. After reports that Alan Shearer had considered a move to Celtic, the confirmation that this would be his last season as manager and a bout of conjunctivitis that had cost him every fit central defender at the club, Robson's exasperation could be understood.

He claimed that Dyer had simply been less fit than either Jermaine Jenas or Nicky Butt, and as he stood on the touchline with the player, waiting for him to go on, Robson provided a public show of support by repeatedly patting him on the bottom.

If Dyer wanted to prove to his manager that he should not play on the right, he did so in emphatic style by ending up on the self same backside, allowing Bolo Zenden to provide the last-minute cross that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink converted through a combination of head and hand.

"Another 'Hand of God'," Robson reflected, although Shearer thought the Dutchman could not be held responsible. "I don't think Jimmy meant to handle it," he said. "He's just got his head down and maybe tried to head it first but it hit his arm. The disappointing thing is that he's three yards from goal and unmarked."

"What-ifs" sustain a frustrated supporter through a summer. If football matches lasted 45 minutes, Leicester would have finished 13th last season; if they lasted 80, Newcastle would have qualified for the Champions' League six points clear of Liverpool. Half-a-dozen times they had conceded a goal in the final 10 minutes away from Tyneside and the cost was 10 points. On Saturday, they started as they had finished and the fact that moments before the equaliser Jenas had missed from six yards left his captain frustrated.

"Sometimes you can't be too proud to stand in the corner and waste time," he said. "Even the great teams do that: the Chelseas, the Manchester Uniteds and the Arsenals. They play the game out; it might be boring but it works. But when we wake up on Monday and think of all the problems we've had, to go to Middlesbrough and get a point is not a bad thing."

Shearer's penalty, converted seven minutes from time in his 500th League match, ought to have been the decisive moment. The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, was frank enough to admit that his side had been outpassed and often outplayed. That they equalised, however dubiously, was why he had risked allowing Hasselbaink, with all his reputation for divisiveness, into his dressing-room.

"I don't know if we would have scored a goal like that last year," he said. "Jimmy is a winner, committed. I remember Ken Bates saying that Middlesbrough had got 'a damn good signing'. He gives us so much up front that we've not had."

But he was not the best new signing on show. If you gave the man of the match award on how far somebody played above expectations, it should have gone to Robbie Elliott. He had not started a game for Newcastle for two and a half years, his recent experiences were playing at the likes of Workington, he was out of position and he was facing Hasselbaink.

If you gave it for how well someone played, then Butt was the day's outstanding personality. He shielded a makeshift defence, blocked out the Middlesbrough midfield and was far more aggressive than he has been in recent seasons at Old Trafford. When stating that Robson's contract would not be renewed, the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, claimed his club had not had value for the money his manager had spent. Butt, for less than £3m, is a bargain Asda would be proud to market.

Goals: Bellamy 14 (0-1), Downing 73 (1-1), Shearer 83 (1-2), Hasselbaink 90 (2-2).

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reiziger, Ehiogu, Riggott, Parnaby (Downing 65); Mendieta, Parlour, Boateng, Zenden; Job (Nemeth 45), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Doriva, Cooper.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Hughes, Elliott, Bernard; Milner (Dyer 68), Butt, Jenas, Robert (Ameobi 76); Bellamy, Shearer (Kluivert 88). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Ramage.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Middlesbrough: Parlour, Boateng, Ehiogu. Newcastle: Shearer, Carr.

Man of the match: Butt.

Attendance: 34,268.

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