When Blackburn travelled to St James' Park back in September, Graeme Souness was in the stands to watch his new club, Newcastle United, beat his old. Yesterday, Souness returned to Ewood Park for the first time since his defection. Now in the home dugout is a man he signed as a player for Blackburn - Mark Hughes. But on the pitch it seems little has changed. Blackburn still cannot win at home, while Newcastle remain unable to defend in a manner befitting a top Premiership club.
While Blackburn finished the stronger and impressed with their determination to match opponents with greater individual talent, that Newcastle did not win this game, having led twice, speaks volumes about their current frailties.
Robbie Elliott and Aaron Hughes were preferred to Titus Bramble and Olivier Bernard at the back but the latest permutation offered little improvement. By the end of the game, both Bramble and Bernard had come off the substitutes' bench and Hughes was playing in central midfield. "It was a similar story for us," Souness said. "We go ahead and concede a bad goal and that gets them back in it. Having got ahead again, we give them another goal."
Newcastle took the lead when Lauren Robert sent Kieron Dyer clear of the Blackburn defence for his first goal of the season. It was an advantage they promptly frittered away.
Barry Ferguson stood over a free-kick midway inside the Newcastle half but instead of chipping the ball into the penalty area found the resourceful Paul Dickov unattended 12 yards out. The forward's run had taken him away from the defenders and his finish underneath Shay Given was neatly done.
The conclusion of a 10-minute microcosm of Newcastle's season arrived with Robert's set-piece. As much as Souness has questioned his attitude, there remain few players with the capacity to score free-kicks from almost 35 yards. The French winger's curling, dipping effort handed his team a lead from precisely nothing.
Blackburn's second equaliser again involved Ferguson, with his 25-yard shot only parried by Given. Andy Todd, set to be offered an extension to his current deal that expires in the summer, was the first to seize on the rebound and the defender's mis-struck attempt bobbled gently into the corner of the net.
Both sides could have won the game after that - Newcastle via the counter-attack and Blackburn through sheer bloody-mindedness - but an unsatisfactory point each was a fair result. "We showed great resolve and I thought we were much the better team in the second half," Hughes said. "That's two defeats in nine now so we're on a decent run but we could have won our past three games and instead we've drawn them all."
Goals: Dyer (5) 0-1; Dickov (26) 1-1; Robert (34) 1-2; Todd (55) 2-2.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Johansson, Matteo; Reid (Thompson, 46), Flitcroft, Ferguson, Emerton; Dickov, Stead (Gallagher, 89). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Pedersen, McEveley.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor, O'Brien, Hughes, Elliott (Bramble, 60); Milner (Bernard, 71), Dyer, Jenas, Robert; Kluivert (Ameobi, 46), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), N'Zogbia.
Referee: M Messias (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Blackburn: Flitcroft. Newcastle: Elliott, Robert.
Man of the match: Dickov.
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