Stead shows touch of Shearer

Blackburn Rovers 1 Newcastle United 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Jon Stead, the match-winner in his Blackburn debut on Saturday, saved them last night in his first home appearance with an equaliser five minutes from time that evoked flattering comparisons.

The former Huddersfield striker salvaged a well deserved point when he stretched out a long leg to reach Paul Gallagher's low cross and steer it in from a narrow angle.

It prevented Blackburn from going away empty-handed from a game which they dominated for long periods, and if Stead can continue to score goals of this value, his £1m transfer fee will look a bargain indeed.

"He's started pretty well for us," his manager, Graeme Souness, said with some understatement. "That tonight was a great finish, a proper striker's goal. It was like Alan Shearer. When the ball left Gallagher's foot, it was going into the back of the net and Stead met it with fire and aggression.'' But he had been one of the guilty men as Blackburn failed to press home the advantage they enjoyed for much of the first half.

Both he and Andy Cole, recalled after being left out at Middlesbrough, had a couple of chances, Markus Babbel should have done better with a free header, and, worst of all, Brett Emerton chipped studiously wide of the far post after stealing the ball from Laurent Robert and being left with a clear run on goal.

Blackburn were producing some of their best approach play of the season and threatening at every turn to exploit a hesitant Newcastle defence, yet the visitors managed to force a series of saves from Brad Friedel.

The American goalkeeper was Blackburn's hero at Middlesbrough, and he was busy again last night, saving early at close range from Craig Bellamy, keeping out a shot and a header from Shearer, and twice denying Gary Speed.

Six minutes into the second half, however, he was at fault, along with the rest of his defence, as Robert put a long throw into the area. Under pressure from Shearer, they allowed the ball to bounce and Bellamy pounced for what could be a turning point in his frustrating season, latching on to it beyond the far post and lashing it into the roof of the net.

The Welshman also chipped just wide of the far post as he began to relish his return to fitness, and it looked as if Newcastle were heading for their first top-flight victory at Ewood Park since 1961, as well as for the three points that would have consolidated them in fourth place in the Premiership.

But then Souness brought on Gallagher, the 19-year-old who has become such an important part of his plans. He strode on to a cleverly angled pass from Babbel, whipped it across, and Stead was there to do the rest.

"He was going to make sure that that ball ended up in the back of the net," Souness said. "Like the old master at the other end." He said he is disinclined to get carried away after two goals in his new signing's first two games, but merely mentioning him in the same breath as Shearer shows how excited he is by Stead's potential.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel 7; Neil 5, Babbel 6, Todd 6, Gray 5; Emerton 5, Tugay 5, Flitcroft 5, Douglas 4 (Gallagher 4, 69); Stead 5, Cole 4 (Johansson, 90). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Gallagher, Yorke, Andresen.

Newcastle Utd (4-4-2): Given 6; Hughes 5, O'Brien 5, Bramble 6, Bernard 6; Jenas 7, Dyer 5, Speed 6, Robert 6; Shearer 6, Bellamy 7. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott, Ambrose, Ameobi, Viana.

Referee: M Messias (South Yorkshire) 6.