Newcastle United 1 Middlesbrough 1: Keegan still in waiting room

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The Independent Football

Kevin Keegan's reintroduction to Newcastle United was designed to stimulate instant lift-off at a club stalled, but it was always going to be easier said than done and Keegan remains more like a man in a ground-floor lift pressing buttons hard.

Generating upward movement may take some time, though at least yesterday there was the encouraging sight of a rising Michael Owen scoring the first goal of Keegan's third era at St. James' Park. It was Owen's first Premier League goal since early October but satisfaction at that dwindled when Robert Huth nodded in a Middlesbrough equaliser three minutes from the end. On the final whistle there was quite a silence.

Before and after the goals, each team had an effort disallowed and so there was a measure of disappointment in both managers. But Keegan owned more of it than Gareth Southgate. Owen had a legitimate-looking tap-in ruled out by referee Mike Dean in the fourth minute, the reason being some limited contact with Mark Schwarzer that allegedly caused the Middlesbrough goalkeeper to drop the ball.

It was a rash decision from Dean, who had a poor afternoon, and a goal then would have changed the rhythm of the game. Keegan complained about that and also about Huth's goal, his contention being that substitute Dong-Gook Lee was offside and interfering when Huth guided his six-yard header beyond Shay Given.

The grievance had substance, but so too did Southgate's regarding Newcastle's goal. It came from a free-kick awarded against Luke Young for a solid tackle on Charles N'Zogbia. So Newcastle won 2-1 on complaints. Keegan took no comfort in that, of course. "I'm very disappointed," he said, "but I'm pleased with the character of the side. We tried something different today and we were three minutes away from holding on for three points we just about deserved. The team lacks a little belief, sometimes you get that from pinching a result. When they threw everything forward at the end we looked a bit exposed. I'm not sure at the minute we can close out a game."

Southgate had the happier demeanour – he mentioned Boro have lost one of their last nine away games – and he praised his side's "discipline" in the first half and "cracking chances" after it. "We were good value for at least a point."

It took Boro above Bolton into 13th place, one below static Newcastle. Newcastle's next four games are against a top-eight quartet and they then travel to Birmingham. Boro's next three at home are against Fulham, Reading and Derby but that is offset by trips to Liverpool, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Chelsea.

During a meagre first half, fixture lists were worthwhile reading. Boro came with a plan to "frustrate" Newcastle, as Southgate said, and it worked.

Had Dean allowed Owen's early strike, that plan would have changed, but instead a pattern of Newcastle trying to break down a packed defence was established.

Keegan picked Joey Barton on the right, dropping James Milner, and Emre was back from suspension, but Newcastle's midfield and defence were guilty of aiming high balls at Owen and Alan Smith. There was a lack of pace and creativity. This was obviously a tactic that suited Boro's centre-halves, Huth, and the increasingly impressive 20 year-old David Wheater.

The second half had to be better and it was. Stewart Downing and Gary O'Neil rattled Given at the start of it but as play expanded it was Newcastle who scored. Young's contact with N'Zogbia was debatable but Owen saw Emre's resulting free-kick more quickly than anyone and leapt higher than taller defenders to beat Schwarzer at the near post.

"It's disappointing when someone of his height gets in among the giants to score," Southgate said.

"Hopefully, now I will go on a nice little run," Owen said. "Confidence is a big thing in football and if you are not scoring goals, everything seems to fall away. I think a few of us, myself included, have not quite played to our full potential but that spark will come with a win."

If Owen's header illustrated his enduring quality, then a miscued shot soon after revealed a penalty-box anxiety. He was not alone. Barton, too, had an inviting chance but wasted it, while at the other end O'Neil burst past Claudio Cacapa only to screw a 14-yard shot wide.

This was now a local derby of some zest. "Playground stuff," Southgate called it as Boro pressed the home team into breakaway football. Newcastle were reliant on big tackles from Cacapa and Steven Taylor on Dong-Gook and the South Korean was an influence when Middlesbrough finally scored. With the visitors forward in numbers, the composed Julio Arca sent in another flighted cross. Dong-Gook was marginally, but visibly, offside, though Newcastle allowed Huth a free header nonetheless.

With four minutes of added time to come, this was scramble. Newcastle rushed forward and Mark Viduka, on for the underwhelming Smith, struck a soft shot against his old club.

Boro hit back, winning a free-kick 20 yards out. Downing took it and Given was motionless as the ball bounced back off the post. Jeremie Aliadière was first to the rebound and lashed it in but the linesman's flag was already raised.

Both clubs were left clutching a point and a degree of optimism. Afonso Alves should at last become a Middlesbrough player today and Southgate was diplomatic about criticism from Jonathan Woodgate about Boro's ambition.

Newcastle have no such new face to welcome but Owen said: "With the players we have got here, Kevin will get this club moving in the right direction."

Keep pressing those buttons.

Goals: Owen (60), 1-0; Huth (87), 1-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Taylor, Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Barton, Butt, Emre (Milner 66) Duff; Owen, Smith (Viduka 66). Substitutes not used: Forster, Edgar, Ameobi.

Middlesbrough (4-1-4-1): Schwarzer; Young, Huth, Wheater, Pogatetz; Rochemback (Johnson 80); O'Neil, Cattermole (Dong-Gook 72) Arca, Downing; Aliadiere. Substitutes not used: Turnbull, Grounds, Boateng.

Booked: Newcastle: Smith. Middlesbrough: Wheater, Aliadiere, Rochemback

Referee: M. Dean (Wirral).

Man of the match: Wheater.

Attendance: 51,105.

Newcastle record under Keegan

* 19 January. Premiership. v Bolton (h)

Drew 0-0.

* 26 January. FA Cup fourth round. v Arsenal (a)

Lost 3-0. Scorers: Adebayor (2), Butt (og).

* 29 January. Premiership. v Arsenal (a)

Lost 3-0. Scorers: Adebayor, Flamini, Fabregas.

* 3 February. Premiership. v Middlesbrough (h)

Drew 1-1. Scorers: Owen, Huth.