From Beck to worse

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 0 Newcastle United 1

When Mikkel Beck saw his name in the starting line-up, he must have rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Of the four strikers taking the field, his name was household only in his own house. The three others cost between them pounds 30m; he was a snip at a mere million.

Yet, despite the much-vaunted presence of Alan Shearer, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Les Ferdinand, the 92nd Tyne-Tees League derby revolved around Beck. He had the first chance in the sixth minute - when he did not know whether to shoot or cross and so tamely drifted the ball into Shaka Hislop's arms - and his last chance in the 83rd.

Then, for the first time, Beck did everything right as he watched Juninho's delightfully lobbed pass bounce before neatly dispatching it over the on-rushing Hislop's head towards the centre of the goal. Sadly, Darren Peacock stretched out a leg as long as a fisherman's line and hooked the ball out of the net.

In between, Beck blasted two glorious chances high and he lacked the know-how to convert Alan Moore's devastating pass when faced by a sprawling Hislop.

The 23-year-old Dane even showed that he was able to create openings for others. In the 63rd minute, he picked up the ball on the halfway line, showed a dazzle of feet and then a quick pair of heels to strand Steve Watson and race into the penalty area.

All it required was a clinical low cross to give the tiny Brazilian the perfect present on his 24th birthday - an open goal - and that he provided. Only there once again was his partner in ponytails, Peacock, stretching out another long leg to rescue his side.

Besides goals, Bryan Robson needs luck to rescue his side from relegation. He has shored up the Premiership's leakiest defence with the import of Gianluca Festa, which has at last given Steve Vickers composure. The two defenders denied the mighty Shearer even a sight of goal from open play - his two attempts were from free-kicks - and so thwarted his bid to score against every club in the Premiership.

Robson has also signed the pounds 1.25m Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from Bradford City, although this is a little unfair on Ben Roberts, the 21-year-old local lad whose only crime on Saturday was to look distinctly nervous when he had Shearer haring towards him while trying to kick a bouncing back pass driven by the wind.

But Robson can't buy luck. "People ask what is the difference between our League and Cup performances," mused the manager. "Well, we maybe get the breaks in Cup games which we don't in League games."

The break Robson sought almost came when Ravanelli lifted his game, perhaps for the first time in the match, and stabbed the ball into the net in the 48th minute. Despite Robson's incredulity, the goal was disallowed, because the Italian had tickled Philippe Albert's Achilles heel, causing him to stumble.

"Maybe we were a little fortunate," admitted Kenny Dalglish, the Blackburn manager, "but luck is all about swings and roundabouts."

However, it was more than luck that put Newcastle six points behind Manchester United with a game in hand. It was Ferdinand. His one chance came in the eighth minute and he steered it in off a post with style. Great finishing - as opposed to the grating finishing of the Dane, Beck.

Goal: Ferdinand (8) 1-0

Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Roberts; Cox, Festa, Vickers (Pearson, 77), Fleming; Hignett (Stamp, 56), Mustoe, Moore (Blackmore, 56); Juninho; Ravanelli, Beck. Substitutes not used: Kinder, Miller (gk).

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Barton; Gillespie, Lee, Clark; Shearer, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Ginola, Asprilla, Crawford, Srnicek (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Middlesbrough Roberts. Newcastle Clark.

Man of the match: Hislop.

Attendance: 30,063.