After 48 hours discussing a foot, Newcastle narrowly avoided shooting their own. Lee Clark is no Michael Owen, but at least his first goal of the season ensured a first festive point for Graeme Souness against Middlesbrough at St James' Park yesterday.
Yet with almost indecent haste, the Scottish manager was brought back down to earth. Less than 60 seconds after the midfielder's face-saving injury-time equaliser, Newcastle supporters were demanding Souness's head - surely some kind of record, even for the increasingly fickle Premiership.
The complaints went on outside St James' Park with a muted post-match protest from a small gathering, but not one yet sufficient in size for Freddy Shepherd, the populist chairman, to feel the need to act.
Souness is still pointing to the absence of Owen, who will have surgery to insert a pin in his broken metatarsal today, and other squad members, including Scott Parker, who faces a knee operation if he fails to respond to treatment, as the reason for his team's troubles. "Take six of the best players out of any team above or below us [ and] they'd find it difficult," the manager said.
Yet the money Souness has wasted on the likes of Jean-Alain Boumsong, an £8m French international who would struggle to get a game for Jarrow Roofing, threaten to be his ultimate Newcastle epitaph.
The hapless French defender was found wanting when he was easily outpaced by Middlesbrough's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, - not the youngest of players - in the sprint for Mark Viduka's through ball and the Dutchman fired the ball past Shay Given to put the visitors ahead with three minutes left to play.
Middlesbrough had equalised Norberto Solano's exquisitely taken opening strike - a 25-yard free-kick - shortly after the restart when Aiyegbeni Yakubu hit an easy close-range finish for his 12th goal of the season after Viduka had released James Morrison down the right to send over an inviting cross.
But Clark's timely volley from the edge of the area, after a weak punch by Middlesbrough's goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, three minutes into stoppage time, denied the visitors their first win in seven Premiership games.
"It's two points thrown away," Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, said - a feat, according to Souness, also managed by Newcastle.
Newcastle's Albert Luque had contrived to hit the post when faced with an unguarded goal early on And Viduka ensured that Luque's miss was not the most glaring, as the Australian's lack of mobility saw him stab Stuart Parnaby's cross over an unguarded net from four yards.
Lee Cattermole, a 17-year-old midfielder, showed rich promise on his first Premiership start as Middlesbrough saw plausible penalty appeals turned down when Robbie Elliott mimicked a rugby hooker when falling awkwardly on the ball. "I thought the 'keeper had picked the ball up, not the left-back," McClaren mused. "It was cruel to have it snatched away from us at the end like that, but we showed a lot of character."
Souness's post-match thoughts were much the same, but from a different perspective; a tale of injury excuses, and points lost.
He also denied rumours of a rift with his defender Stephen Carr. "We've lost two points, because we bossed the vast majority of the game. We had nearly all the possession and the better chances. It was like we were about to be mugged until Lee scored, and I was starting to feel sorry for myself." Upon hearing the reaction of Newcastle fans after the final whistle, he probably did anyway.
Newcastle (4-4-2) Given; Ramage, Boumsong, Bramble, Elliott (Babayaro 46); Solano, Clark, Faye, Ameobi (N'Zogbia 46); Shearer, Luque. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Chopra, Brittain.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Pogatetz; Morrison, Doriva, Cattermole, Mendieta (Bates 69); Yakubu (Hasselbaink 74), Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Maccarone, Johnson.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).Reuse content