Newcastle United 1 Aston Villa 1: A game to forget deepens gloom

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The Independent Online

If Graeme Souness was looking for tea and sympathy on Saturday evening, there was precious little on offer in the vicinity of St James' Park. There was a chorus of boos and chants of "Souness Out" from a small band of Toon Army mutineers who subsequently convened outside the main entrance. Still, there was coffee and a motherly cuddle for the beleaguered manager of Newcastle United - courtesy of Kath Cassidy, the veteran tea lady in the press room.

Kath has seen it all before in her 37 years of sterling service at St James' - 14 managers under pressure and just the one cup that was not manufactured for the drinking of her tea or coffee (the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, back in 1969). It seems she will be seeing manager number 14 for a little while longer. The Newcastle board are well aware that Souness is not many people's cup of Lapsang Souchong on Tyneside, but they happen to be suffering from a shortage of suitable alternatives to offer to the Geordie public.

With Martin O'Neill unavailable, and the chairman, Freddy Shepherd, and his fellow directors reluctant to approach the domestic managers who spurned their advances before they settled on Souness 15 months ago, the search for a potential replacement could switch to foreign shores and become as protracted as a Titus Bramble challenge. In which case, Souness was not the only official in the home camp with reason to breathe a sigh of relief when Gareth Barry sent his 88th-minute penalty kick ballooning high into the Leazes End. It bought time for the Newcastle board as well as for the the manager.

"I've got no plans to see the chairman," Souness said, facing the press after a swig of Kath's coffee. "Why should I?" Asked whether he felt "secure", he sighed in exasperation and exclaimed, "Och, talk about the game." In truth, there was not very much to be said about a game best forgotten. When pressed further, about "being under the cosh", Souness simply repeated the mantra he had been reciting since his team's midweek loss to Wigan's reserves: "At this club, you're only two games away from being under real pressure. But I knew that before I came here. That's the price on the ticket."

The Toon Army can be as fickle as any set of fans, but in reality it is a good deal more than two poor games that has stretched their patience. It is a whole succession of poor performances from a bunch of players who are failing to justify the prices on the tickets that brought them to St James' Park. It was not Souness who paid £5m for Bramble, but he did invest some £8m in Jean-Alain Boumsong, who has been a lumbering liability at the centre of the Newcastle defence of late.

Sir Bobby Robson took great exception when it was suggested that he would have been better off signing Wilfred Brambell, but on Saturday Titus was more like Hercules, the ironically named horse in the Steptoe scrap yard. "I have to say, Titus has got to have a close look at himself," Souness conceded, in the wake of the agricultural challenge on Milan Baros that gave Villa their late penalty.

It was fortunate for Souness that Barry came to his rescue - spurning the chance to ease the pressure on his own manager, after Gavin McCann had fired home a fine 75th-minute equaliser for David O'Leary's Villans. If there was one winner from a contest that left drawn expressions all round, it had to be Alan Shearer. Thwarted twice before by Thomas Sorensen from the penalty spot at St James' Park, the veteran Newcastle captain managed to beat him from 12 yards in a sterile first half on Saturday.

He did so with a change of direction - a lead that Newcastle's directors are unlikely to follow just yet.

Goals: Shearer pen (32) 1-0; McCann (75) 1-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Ramage, Boumsong, Bramble, Elliott; Solano (Bowyer, 86), Parker, Faye, Ameobi; Shearer, Chopra (Luque, 80). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Clark, Brittain.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Bouma; Hendrie, Davis (Bakke, 60), McCann, Barry; Angel (Moore, 60), Baros. Substitutes not used:Taylor (gk), Samuel, De La Cruz.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Bookings: Aston Villa McCann, Hendrie.

Man of the match: Parker.

Attendance: 52,267.

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