Wingless Magpies go from Dyer to worse

Newcastle United 1 - Charlton Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

As they prepare to fly out for their mid-winter break in the United Arab Emirates, the players of Newcastle United might care to peruse the traffic-safety notice on the Dubai Police Academy's website. In addition to advising visitors to "use the horn only when necessary", a wise instruction to Premiership players on such trips, there is a warning to "be alert and expect others to make mistakes".

Even as Kieron Dyer shot Newcastle into the lead at St James' Park yesterday, seven minutes into the second-half, he might have expected a defensive lapse to undermine his effort. Less than a minute later, a lack of alertness and basic control on the part of Andy O'Brien gave Dennis Rommedahl the opportunity to draw Charlton level from their first chance of the game.

It was the 43rd goal conceded in Newcastle's ever-faltering Premiership campaign. Graeme Souness's Magpies - painfully wingless up front and all in a flap at the back - were hanging on desperately for a point thereafter. At the final whistle, they were given the bird by the unimpressed inhabitants of their home roost.

"I can understand the crowd's frustration," Souness said later. "They want to see goals. When we did score, we gifted Charlton a goal inside a minute. If you look at the way we gave the ball away in that area, it was not what you would call top-class defending. It was disappointing."

Indeed, it was. And what compounded the frustration of the dejected Toon Army was a disappointing lack of top-class attacking support for Alan Shearer - and a stifling absence of wingers, or "wide-working players", as Souness prefers to call them.

It is four years now since Shola Ameobi broke into the Newcastle first-team, yet the young man who Bobby Robson described as "a lanky Bambi" continues to be the same beguiling enigma - blessed at times with the assured touch of a Dennis Bergkamp and at others with the more prickly control of a Titus Bramble. The latter was predominately in evidence yesterday, as Shearer shouldered the burden of striving for a breakthrough.

Newcastle's veteran captain very nearly caught Dean Kiely napping with a smart shot on the turn in the seventh minute, and also tested the Charlton goalkeeper with a header - two chances teed up from deep by Amdy Faye. With Faye dictating much of the first-half play, it was such one-way traffic that even O'Brien was encouraged to step forward. From fully 40 yards, his right-foot effort was heading for the target until Kiely diverted it, pushing the ball up and on to his crossbar.

By the interval, Newcastle were rapidly running out of steam, their lack of width increasingly evident. Charlton had yet to live up to their name: Athletic. It was a different in the second-half, although it took Dyer's goal and O'Brien's blunder to spark Alan Curbishley's men into life.

The breakthrough, after 52 minutes, stemmed from an up-field punt by Bramble - headed on by Shearer, via the flailing Chris Perry, for Dyer to chest down and beat Kiely with a crisply-executed half-volley. The Toon Army were still celebrating when O'Brien failed to control a ball on the right-edge of the Newcastle penalty area, shunting it to Rommedahl. The Dane curled a right-foot drive around Given and in off the far post.

Souness glared at his wrist-watch in exasperation. The lead had lasted less than a minute. It might have been worse for Newcastle thereafter, though, as they proceeded to live on borrowed time. The home guard went AWOL and Rommedahl roamed menacingly free.

He poked one glorious chance wide and had another saved by Given. Paul Konchesky, Matt Holland and Luke Young also let Newcastle off the hook.

The Magpies did mount a late attacking flurry, Laurent Robert and Patrick Kluivert having elatedly entered the fray. The jeers at the final whistle, though, were entirely predictable.

"Graeme Souness is getting the sack," the Charlton fans chanted from up in the Milburn Stand. Worryingly for the Newcastle manager, it was a theme applauded by potential mutineers in the Toon Army.