Middlesbrough pride themselves on their resolute, unbreachable defence. Yet two hugely uncharacteristic lapses - a glaring loss of reason by Ugo Ehiogu and a momentary mistiming from Gareth Southgate - cost the Carling Cup finalists dearly in a derby they deserved to win.
For nearly all the game Ehiogu was dominant in the air, Southgate unperturbed on the ground and Danny Mills snarled nastily alongside. Boro were leading with more than an hour gone when Ehiogu inexplicably decided Laurent Robert's unthreaten-ing cross required his immediate intervention. He lunged in awkwardly, knocking the ball out of his own keeper's gloves. It dribbled horribly towards the goal and Craig Bellamy, scavenging like a hyena, thumped it over the line.
After the aberration, the calamity. With eight minutes remaining, Darren Ambrose kicked a bouncing ball past Southgate into the penalty area. A minute earlier the Middlesbrough skipper had dispossessed Alan Shearer with the most perfect of tackles on the edge of the area, but this time he was a moment late and a most minimal of touches caused Ambrose to tumble. Following the kerfuffle Shearer arrowed his penalty in at the foot of the post for his first goal in seven games.
"I can't believe that we lost that game,'' said Middlesbrough's manager, Steve McClaren. "We looked in control, not in any trouble, composed, defending well. I can't believe we lost that game - actually lost it.'' To add insult, in the dying minutes, Middlesbrough had a plausible penalty appeal turned down and a Michael Ricketts headed goal ruled out because Juninho was apparently offside.
For an hour this was as curious fare as the pre-match entertainment which featured the Geordie Dancer. He is a rotund, bespectacled and uncoordinated fellow in grey nylon slacks who will become a cultural phenomenon, and he started his UK tour by "dancing'' on the pitch in the manner of a drowning seal.
Newcastle were just as unco-ordinated, spluttering to make an impression against the visitors' disciplined defence. On a pitch more rolled mud than cut grass, the game stumbled into a niggly wrestling match, punctuated so regularly by the referee's whistle that the Geordie Dancer mistook it for a weird rhythm. Only Middlesbrough's touches of intelligence illuminated events. After 15 minutes, Gaizka Mendieta seized on a loose ball and whipped over a wonderful pass to the unseen Bolo Zenden, who spooned over with Shay Given sprawling at his feet.
But in the 33rd minute, George Boateng collected a cute pass from Mendieta, exchanged clever touches with Juninho and then sent Zenden away down the left. It was the best move of the match, and the Dutchman's wicked cross-shot flew past Given, over Titus Bramble's despairing leg and into the net.
It gave Middlesbrough the lead they would surely have held but for their two uncharacteristic defensive lapses. "They made the mistake and we cashed in on it,'' said Newcastle's manager, Bobby Robson. "Then we had home advantage and the touch of resilience to go on and win it.''
Newcastle United 2
Bellamy 63, Shearer pen 83
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 52,156Reuse content