Harford saves his neck at Gallowgate

Newcastle United 2 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online
The Gallowgate End, at which Alan Shearer scored on Saturday, was so named because public hangings, rather than pounds 15m footballers, used to draw the crowds to the site on which St James' Park stands.

After Howard Wilkinson's putting to the sword by his old musketeer Eric Cantona at Elland Road the previous Saturday, it would have been an appropriate time and place for the execution of another managerial career in the Premiership.

Ray Harford left Gallowgate with not only his neck intact but his spirits high. Only time, however, will judge whether the humour in which he indulged was of the gallows variety. "I'm much more relaxed than I was at this time last season," he said. "If I get the sack tomorrow I'll be relaxed when I get it."

Yet, despite another ultimately point-less exercise for Ray and his Rovers, a P45 is unlikely to be lying on his desk this morning. A sixth defeat in seven games this season, in the Coca-Cola Cup at Brentford's Griffin Park tomorrow night, may well hasten the Ewood Park slump into a crisis even the pugnacious Harford would find too intense to survive.

Against Newcastle they deserved to double their points. Though Tim Flowers made two fine saves from Shearer, they were containing Newcastle comfortably enough until the 44th minute, when the ball struck Colin Hendry's left arm and Keith Burge awarded the penalty Shearer duly converted.

Such is the cruel nature of football's law of sod, the one about being kicked when you are down, the referee ignored Blackburn's claims when Steve Howey handled a Kevin Gallacher shot five minutes into the second half.

Rovers, who have not won at St James' Park since 1958, were left fighting another losing battle when Les Ferdinand scrambled Newcastle's second goal, on the hour. Chris Sutton's flashing 25-yard drive came too late, five minutes from time, to stop Rovers hitting rock bottom.

Jason Wilcox played for Blackburn's A team on Saturday and Graeme Le Saux is, in Harford's estimation, only four to six weeks away from his long-awaited resumption of Premiership duties. There is also Uncle Jack's cheque-book of course. But Harford, who was on a Continental scouting mission yesterday, insists he will not use it for the sake of it.

"Signing a big name can be a cosmetic thing," he said. "Engelbert Humperdinck's a big name." Such was the Gallowgate humour on Saturday night.

Goals: Shearer (pen, 44) 1-0; Ferdinand (60) 2-0; Sutton (85) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Lee (Gillespie, 81), Beardsley (Clark, 81), Batty, Ginola; Ferdinand (Asprilla, 73), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Albert, Hislop (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Coleman, Hendry, Kenna; Donis (Ripley 60), Bohinen, Sherwood (Fenton 79), Flitcroft (McKinlay, 66); Gallacher, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Pearce, Given (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Bookings: Blackburn: Flitcroft, Coleman, Bohinen, McKinlay.

Man of the match: Flowers.

Attendance: 36,424.