Newcastle haunted by a blank look

Newcastle Utd 0 West Ham Utd 0
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The Independent Football

Having failed to score a goal of their own making in their final four home matches of last season, Graeme Souness's side yesterday picked up where they had left off, drawing another blank in front of the unimpressed Toon Army. That they did so despite Dermot Gallagher charitably reducing their opponents to 10 men for the final 36 minutes with a shocker of a red card for Paul Konchesky, compounded the festering frustration on Tyneside. Boos rang round the ground at the final whistle and chants of "Sack the Board" and "Shepherd Out" could be heard as the crowd dispersed.

Sir Bobby's all-out attacking dazzlers of two seasons ago have given way to a neutered Newcastle, with an ageing, isolated Alan Shearer at their drastically blunted apex. The expected £8m signing of Albert Luque from Deportivo La Coruña this week would at least give Newcastle's captain some support up front, though on this evidence he is unlikely to get six shots this season, let alone the six goals he needs to equal Jackie Milburn's club scoring record.

With disaffection mounting among supporters, and with a trip to Bolton on Wednesday and Manchester United due at St James' on Sunday, the question is whether Newcastle's manager of 12 months will get six matches this season. The talk of the Toon last night was that the Chop Suey moment was fast approaching, that David O'Leary had been identified as the first-choice replacement, and that plans were even in hand for a caretaker. Glenn Roeder having been installed as director of Newcastle's academy, a suitable interim appointee is already close at hand.

Not that Souness was pressing any panic buttons. "I didn't hear them," he replied, when asked about the audibly restless natives. "What I am focusing on now is Wednesday night," he continued. "The obvious things we were missing today were door-openers and people who can put the ball in the net. That's what we will be addressing."

It hardly helped Souness's cause yesterday that Emre Belozoglu and Kieron Dyer were both in hamstrung states, and that James Milner was pressed into emergency service as a nominal attacking partner for Shearer. Without orthodox wingers, too, the Magpies bore a one-dimensional contrast to a West Ham team who played with pace, precision and dynamism for much of the first half, and who came close to the lead they deserved in the 23rd minute. It was the guile of Teddy Sheringham that prised open the home guard. His deft, angled pass put Yossi Benayoun through on the right and, though Shay Given managed to get a hand to the Israeli's clipped shot, it took the intervention of Celestine Babayaro to hook the ball clear from the goalmouth.

Sheringham made way for Shaun Newton four minutes into the second half with just the hint of a limp. There was more than a hint of myopia on the part of Mr Gallagher, though - and on the part of the linesman he consulted - after Jermaine Jenas was sent sprawling to the ground under challenge from Konchesky in the 54th minute. It was clear from the Milburn Stand that the left-back had got his foot to the ball and not to the man, but the referee, who was well behind play at the time, was already reaching for his top pocket before he was persuaded to consult his assistant. Astonishingly, he still flourished his red card - to the consternation of most in the ground, not least Alan Pardew.

"I'm not raging; I'm baffled," the West Ham manager said later. "I've shown Dermot Gallagher the replay and he still says it's a foul. I can't believe that. Paul won the ball cleanly before he even touched the player. I certainly will be appealing against the red card." If it was a foul, then I must be a Dutchman. Maar ik ben geen Ruud Gullit. And, speaking of not being Ruud Gullit, the Ides of August would appear to be threatening Newcastle's latest manager. His side having never looked like exploiting their numerical advantage - a shot on the turn by Lee Clark, back in a Newcastle shirt as a substitute, being the only chance of note - Souness looks in danger of going the same way as Dalglish, Gullit and Robson. His three predecessors all failed to survive the opening month of what proved to be their last seasons here.