Newcastle lament Shearer miss

Newcastle United 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

Newcastle's brief involvement with the Champions' League ended in a flurry of missed penalties in front of the Gallowgate End and, realistically, so too did their attempts to get back into the competition.

That it should have been Alan Shearer who saw what would have been a winning penalty saved seven minutes from time was an irony. No man has done more to drag Newcastle towards the Champions' League and when Paul Jones flung himself to his right to push his spot-kick aside, Shearer would have felt swallowed up by the injustice of it all.

However, as he correctly pointed out afterwards, if Newcastle fail to make the European élite next season it will be because they have not played consistently well enough, especially away from Tyneside. In that sense, the penalty was an irrelevance.

Yesterday cost two points rather than three but to everybody inside St James' Park it would have felt like a defeat. In a television interview afterwards, Sir Bobby Robson said Newcastle had "lost", while Shearer said he took responsibility for "three lost points".

Publicly, the Newcastle manager had no other option than to be defiant, arguing his side could still qualify by winning at Southampton and Liverpool. The facts, however, are that Ted Heath was running the country the last time they won a League match at Southampton and Robson has never tasted victory at Anfield as either a player or a manager.

Put another way, Newcastle will have to equal their number of away victories for the season in a single week. Most on Tyneside would gladly settle for overhauling Aston Villa to reach fifth place and the Uefa Cup.

Newcastle are running out of time and players. As the squad walked around St James' for a final lap of honour to a funereal version of "Local Hero", Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Jermaine Jenas - the very core of the side - were all in suits. Bellamy and Dyer might just be risked at Anfield on Saturday, assuming there is something still to play for. "We have played 28 games in Europe in the last two years, when was the last time this club did that?" said Robson, who was angered by the booing that greeted his decision to replace Laurent Robert with Hugo Viana.

"Expectations are so high here now and we are missing five members of our band," he added. "Take five players out of Arsenal's side and they would struggle."

Nevertheless, facing a side, which for all practical purposes was already relegated and had not won a top-flight game away from Molineux for 20 years, this was a banker. You could have had odds of 9-1 against Wolves at kick-off and Newcastle ought to have been four up by the time the second half was five minutes old.

Aside from the penalty, awarded for a push on Gary Speed by Paul Ince, Shola Ameobi struck the post and then missed from six yards. Darren Ambrose also barged his way into the area, turned Lee Naylor and sent a pass which took out two Wolves defenders. Speed, "one of our guaranteed players" in his manager's words, drove into the side-netting.

The goal they did score was something of a rarity since it marked Lee Bowyer's first since October 2002. He has played, at best indifferently, for two clubs since then. Yesterday, however, he looked more like the midfielder who had driven Leeds to the semi-finals of the European Cup. He timed his run beautifully to meet Ameobi's through-ball in the 38th minute and, but for Jones' sprawling legs, should have given Newcastle back the lead 11 minutes from time.

Wolves, who but for an appalling start might have survived in the Premiership, became the third and last club to be formally relegated, since the 33-0 victory they required did not materialise. They played with the relaxed confidence of men who already knew their fate. With nothing to lose, Dave Jones removed his two full-backs for attacking midfielders and pushed on. Frankly, the equaliser was in the air long before it arrived.

Mark Kennedy's cross was deflected into Vio Ganea's path by Olivier Bernard and as the Romanian's shot comfortably beat Shay Given it was no more than the visitors deserved. It took Wolves nearly two decades and nine managers to recover from their last relegation from the top-flight but, if they manage to keep hold of their strike pairing of Carl Cort and Henri Camara, they have a fair chance of emulating West Bromwich Albion by coming straight back up.

"I've not enjoyed it, if I'm honest," was Jones' reflection on his brief return to Premiership management. "It's the first time I've ever been relegated. People have asked the players how they feel, they've asked the fans and the board but nobody's ever asked me how I feel. And I feel I have unfinished business."

Goals: Bowyer 38 (1-0). Ganea 71 (1-1).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given 6; Hughes 5, Caldwell 6, Bramble 3, Bernard 4; Ambrose 6 (Chopra, 80), Bowyer 7, Speed 6, Robert 5 (Viana, 80); Ameobi 5, Shearer 6. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Griffin, Bridges.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jones 8; Irwin 5 (Ganea 7, 65), Okoronkwo 3, Butler 4, Naylor 4 (Rae 6, 32); Newton 6, Ince 5, Cameron 6 (Gudjonsson, 90), Kennedy 7; Cort 4, Camara 5. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Lowe.

Referee: M Messias (N Yorkshire) 6.

Booked: Newcastle: Bowyer. Wolves: Ince, Cameron.

Man of the match: Jones.

Attendance: 52,139.