At least Newcastle had some sort of excuse, with Michael Owen the latest addition to their star-studded and lengthy list of crocks after suffering a dead leg in training. The striker should be ready by midweek, according to his manager, Graeme Souness, to join England's squad for Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Austria. Newcastle will be happy with this, their third successive clean sheet, the first time this has happened in almost four years. Any sort of sequence which does not include a mention of defeat is welcome in their section of the North-east.
For Portsmouth, still without a home win and with only three victories in 15 matches since Alain Perrin took over, there is already a chill in the air. They had brief, impressive spells but overall did not unduly trouble Newcastle's notoriously fragile defence until the final 10 minutes.
Then Shay Given, not by any means for the first time, saved his team with a brilliant double stop to deny Matthew Taylor. When Gary O'Neil's cross from the right was perfectly flighted for Taylor's volley, Given somehow thrust the shot over the bar and seconds later he turned away a header from the same player.
The frustration extended to the crowd, who bellowed for a penalty with two minutes remaining when Zvonimir Vukic tumbled as he raced past the outcoming Given. Bellows turned to cheers as the referee, Steve Bennett, appeared to point to the spot, but he was merely indicating Vukic should get up to receive a yellow card for diving.
Though the two Andys, O'Brien and Griffin, might have been apprehensive about facing their old club and the might of Alan Shearer, they did rather well until late on. Then O'Brien twice fouled Shearer within goal range but both times the free-kick was driven into the defensive wall.
The quicksilver Dario Silva, though operating alone up front, unnerved Newcastle a few times in the early stages, but his finishing did not equal his enterprise. So, as Alain Boumsong slowly got his game together to produce one brilliant intervening tackle on Vukic, Newcastle began to look more secure.
It was O'Neil who had the left side of Newcastle's back line in regular distress, but Celestine Babayaro did not appear for the second half, being replaced by Robbie Elliott, who got a better grip on things. Newcastle improved as half-time neared and almost received unexpected joy as Portsmouth keeper Jamie Ashdown came close to fumbling Charles N'Zogbia's cross into his own net. He did much better to reach another N'Zogbia centre inches ahead of Shola Ameobi.
After the interval the misses grew ever more extravagant. Vukic failed to apply his head to an inviting centre by O'Neil, Silva sent a header wide, Shearer walloped one high and, from a corner, Dejan Stefanovic could not quite get a telling header because of Boumsong's intervention.
Cautions were late in coming from a restrained Mr Bennett. Steven Taylor was booked for obstructing O'Neil's gallop and Scott Parker, who otherwise played well, soon followed for dissent.
The home supporters were convinced that yellow was the least Lee Bowyer deserved for a clattering tackle on Gregory Vignal. But it was a ball-winning tackle and brought nothing more than a talking-to from Mr Bennett. It was a restraint of which Mr Attlee might have approved.Reuse content