Newcastle United 1 Aston Villa 1: Barry gives Souness brief respite

Villa penalty miss digs Newcastle's manager out of a hole - for now
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The Independent Football

Graeme Souness sent his team out at St James' Park yesterday with the tune of "Local Hero" blasting over the public-address system. In the circumstances, "I Will Survive" would have been more appropriate, given the note of defiance the Newcastle manager had been obliged to strike since his team's midweek Carling Cup exit at the hands of Wigan Athletic reserves.

Alan Shearer did his best to pick up the Gloria Gaynor theme on behalf of his beleaguered boss, burying a 32nd-minute penalty past his spot-kick nemesis, Thomas Sorensen. By the final blast of Alan Wiley's whistle, though, there was the sound of muted booing in the Tyneside air as Newcastle hung on for a draw and Souness clung to his job.

Both did so by the slenderest of threads, Gavin McCann having struck an equaliser for Villa in the 75th minute and Gareth Barry having squandered a golden opportunity to relieve the pressure on his own manager. With two minutes remaining, St James' held its breath when Titus Bramble, the one-time Tractor Boy, felled Milan Baros with the most agricultural of challenges. The sigh of relief was palpable as Barry scythed his penalty kick high into the Leazes End seats, leaving David O'Leary wearing the most pained expression of the day and Souness looking drawn, but neither hung nor quartered. Not yet, at any rate.

With a small band of Toon Army mutineers standing outside calling for his neck afterwards, Souness strove to keep his plight in perspective. "I can understand the frustration of our supporters," he said. "But I'm far happier than I was on Wednesday, because the players had a real go. Luck is something we've not had a lot of this season, but we got some today."

They certainly did - courtesy of Barry, who attempted to come to Souness's rescue in the same fixture last season, prising apart the fighting Magpies Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer, and who was linked with a move to St James' Park last summer. They were also a shade fortunate when 32 minutes of inactivity ended with the award of a Newcastle penalty.

There was no question that the right arm of Liam Ridgewell got in the way of a shot from Scott Parker, but still some doubt about Shearer's ability to beat Sorensen from 12 yards - something the veteran Newcastle captain had failed to manage twice before on Tyneside.

Both for Sunderland in 2001 and for Villa in 2003, Sorensen saved Shearer penalties at St James' - but diving to his left, and at the Gallowgate End of the ground. Yesterday, at the Leazes End, the Danish goalkeeper guessed correctly in launching himself to his right. He got his hands to the ball, too, but could not stop it hitting the net.

Souness breathed his first sigh of relief as Shearer celebrated goal No 198 of his Newcastle career. He had reason to breathe another a minute later, when Lee Hendrie curled a free-kick into the side-netting.

It might have been different had Shearer hit the target rather than the crossbar early in the second half, but by the time Shay Given clawed away a McCann shot in the 65th minute, Newcastle were distinctly nervy. Ten minutes later, it was all square, McCann burying a low first-time shot from Hendrie's pass.

Souness looked all but buried when Bramble gifted Villa their late penalty - only for Barry to dig him out of the beckoning hole.