Newcastle Utd 2 Birmingham City 1: Beye buys breathing space for Allardyce with last-gasp strike

Senegalese defender's first Newcastle goal ends six-game winless streak
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The Independent Football

Just when Newcastle United looked set for a second 1-1 home draw in four days, one that would have been greeted by rancour rather than the rapture that met Wednesday's effort against Arsenal, Habib Beye, one of Sam Allardyce's summer signings, got his manager and colleagues out of a corner by scoring from one. With seconds ticking away towards injury time, a corner from the right taken by Emre was met by Beye at the near post.

The former Marseille full-back sneaked in front of Sebastian Larsson to nod an unconventional header into the ground and then high up past the helpless Maik Taylor.

It was Beye's first goal for the club and his relief was surpassed only by Allardyce and his legion of backroom staff in the home dugout. "That's three goals from set-plays in that position," Allardyce said, "they decide most games."

Newcastle may not have played thrillingly, particularly in the second half, when Beye's header was only their second effort on target. Their 37th-minute equaliser, moreover, was a penalty that Birmingham City's new manager, Alex McLeish, said "aggrieved" him.

But a first win in seven matches represented for Newcastle, in Allardyce's opinion afterwards: "a really, really big three points. Nothing else mattered today. That settles us down a little bit and we look forward to going to Fulham next Saturday to improve our away record."

For Birmingham, though, it was "cruel", a word McLeish used more than once. Birmingham's manager of a fortnight had seen his bright, capable side take an early lead through Cameron Jerome and McLeish, understandably, felt that Newcastle were struggling to get back into the afternoon until Obafemi Martins fell over the outstretched right leg of Matt Sadler.

McLeish's ire at referee Rob Styles' decision outlasted television replays and further frustration followed when Taylor got a firm hand to Martin's spot-kick only to palm it on to a post and in off it.

In Styles' defence, Sadler's right leg appeared to take Martins' from under him. It was Newcastle's first penalty of the season. Shortly before it Martins had somehow diverted a Charles N'Zogbia free-kick straight at Taylor from all of three yards and five minutes after Martins' penalty, James Milner then perpetrated a miss from a similar distance. Again the cross came from N'Zogbia.

So McLeish's assertion that the penalty was "a lifeline they never looked like getting" has to be re-considered and Milner was also to strike a post in the lead-up to half-time.

That proved to be Newcastle's only convincing spell, however, as Birmingham started the second half confidently, Gary McSheffrey beginning to be influential on the left. One link-up with Jerome forced David Rozehnal to make a hasty near-post clearance.

That was something Rozehnal conspicuously failed to do in the ninth minute when a 60-yard upfield pass from Rafael Schmitz skipped up off a surface made tricky by persistent rain and sleet. Due to letting the ball bounce, suddenly Rozehnal was in a race with Jerome for possession. Predictably the striker won it and Jerome then calmly rounded Shay Given and slid the ball into the empty net. That meant Newcastle have not kept a clean sheet in any of the 12 games since Wigan were beaten here on 1 September. Michael Owen scored a late winner that day and the mind turned to Owen when N'Zogbia drilled in a low centre during a rare bright Newcastle attack in the first period of the second half.

Mark Viduka was on for the injured Nicky Butt with Alan Smith up front Martins being asked to move wide but none of the three displayed Owen's predatory sense.

In fact, in a sluggish second half, there was little real threat created by either side. But then Beye stooped to conquer Blues from roughly the same spot that Owen did for Wigan.

"It was a monumental effort," Allardyce said, "great credit has to go to the lads because going one down so early meant another test for them and the fans.

"We build our own mountains and at 1-0 it was 'here we go again' but we kept going and got the win we deserved."