Ian Woan assumed temporary, if unwitting cult status among Manchester United followers last night by scoring the late equaliser for Nottingham Forest which left the Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan, needing the ultimate favour from Bryan Robson and neighbouring Middlesbrough on Sunday.
With 15 minutes remaining, and Peter Beardsley's stunning first-half goal looking set to earn Newcastle a fourth consecutive 1-0 victory, an uncharacteristic lapse by David Batty allowed Woan to take possession. The visitors' defence backed off, which was all the encouragement the Forest midfielder required to dispatch a rising left-footed drive beyond Shaka Hislop from 25 yards.
Now, instead of going into the final round of fixtures level on points with Manchester United, Newcastle receive Tottenham knowing that victory will not suffice unless the Premiership leaders succumb on Teesside.
Even if Alex Ferguson's side were to draw, Newcastle would need to win by an improbable margin. Should Manchester United take full points nothing Keegan's men could muster would stop them taking the title for the third time in four years.
It will be scant consolation to the Tyneside legions that this match, like Leeds' recent tussles with the top two, underscored the honesty and integrity of England's senior division. Forest, flattened 5-0 at Old Trafford last Sunday, were anything but demob-happy. Whispers reputedly emanating from Manchester, pointing out that the Forest manager, Frank Clark, is honorary president of Newcastle's London supporters' club, proved an unpleasant irrelevance.
Yet while the odds are now against Newcastle returning for Stuart Pearce's testimonial match as champions for the first time in 69 years, they would be advised to look to their own failings rather than carping - as their rivals are wont to do - about others excelling against them.
The uncomfortable truth is that for the fourth time in six away games, Newcastle could not translate a lead into a victory. Keegan's reaction said it all. In contrast with his emotional outburst against Ferguson at Leeds on Monday, he did not attend the post-match press conference or speak to Sky's expectant interviewer.
Keegan sought the refuge of the team bus, but his captain, Beardsley, admitted that the urge to add to their advantage had got the better of them. "We were chasing that second goal," he said. "We should have wrapped it up ourselves, but there's still hope."
Batty, whose inability to control a simple pass proved calamitous, said: "I took my eye off the ball and it went under my foot. But we've just got to keep believing. If we beat Spurs, we've still got a chance."
Newcastle, who had dropped Faustino Asprilla to start both David Ginola and Keith Gillespie for the first time this year, had Beardsley's virtuosity to thank for their 32nd-minute goal. Having shaken off two red shirts, he then nutmegged Alf Inge Haaland before burying an unstoppable shot between the angle of post and bar from eight yards.
Although Bryan Roy had fluffed an early chance for Forest, his profligacy was nothing compared with that of Les Ferdinand. The England striker's worst miss was on the stroke of half-time when he ballooned the ball into the Trent End after a jinking run and cut-back by Beardsley. His last, a twisting header which rebounded off the bar, came only minutes before Woan's dramatic intervention.
In a frantic finale, the marauding Philippe Albert had the opportunity to snatch the spoils for Newcastle. Mark Crossley parried his shot and then, as the ball bobbled enticingly free, fisted it to safety from a prostrate position. A miracle at Middlesbrough could still change everything, but it was hard to resist the feeling that the faces of the Belgian and his team-mates were a foretaste of further disappointment.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Haaland, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Gemmill (McGregor, 60), Bart-Williams, Woan; J Lee, Roy (Howe, 73). Substitute not used: Lyttle.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie (Asprilla, 87), R Lee, Batty, Ginola (Clark, 78); Beardsley; Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Barton.
Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley, Lancs).
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