As drab a Tyne-Tees derby as ever seen


Newcastle United 0 Middlesbrough 0: As drab a Tyne-Tees derby game as can ever have occurred petered out in unattractive, goalless fashion last night.

With Newcastle derailed by injuries and seemingly incapable of mounting any sustained pressure, and Middlesbrough strikingly unambitious given the fragile nature of their hosts, it was 74 minutes before either goalkeeper made a serious intervention. It came from Middlesbrough's Brad Jones, who foiled James Milner.

A home winner then would have been just about deserved, but only because Newcastle attacked when they could in the second half.

Boro are never the most adventurous of sides but their willingness to settle for a draw was not pleasing on the eye. Yet they achieved their aim and moved a point closer to Uefa Cup qualification.

For Newcastle it is a step towards the Intertoto Cup, but there was no mass protest against Graeme Souness or the hierarchy at the club as some had anticipated.

Another humdrum day on Tyneside featured Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd stating that Alan Shearer was ready to "knock seven bells" out of Craig Bellamy due to abusive text messages, a statement Shepherd later retracted with the captain understood to be displeased about the prominence of his name in the newspapers.

Shearer's prominence after kick-off was reduced, at least initially, as he was asked to play in a lone role up front, although it was his flick in the 19th minute that created the game's first chance, a weak volley from Milner.

With the atmosphere eerie rather than passionate, Middlesbrough were content to play on the break. There were some early signs that this might be a profitable policy, even if Shay Given was not disturbed in the first half.

With Middlesbrough's neat passing too often withering away on the edge of the Newcastle area and the home side unable to find a path through the Boro defence, there was deadlock.

When, all too predictably, Kieron Dyer limped off 10 minutes before half-time with a recurrence of his hamstring injury, Newcastle's imaginative potential was curtailed further.

George Boateng needed treatment within a minute of the restart, when Charles N'Zogbia slipped as he attempted to challenge the midfielder and careered into him from behind. He spent several minutes trying to walk the problem off.

Newcastle tried desperately to make the most of their man advantage, but simply could not open up Middlesbrough.

But Boro should have been in front on 55 minutes when Doriva picked out Jimmy-Flloyd Hasselbaink with a superb pass. The striker looked to chip Given, but he succeeded only in lifting the ball into the goalkeeper's arms.

NEWCASTLE: Given, Ramage, Andrew O'Brien, Boumsong, Elliott, Ambrose, Carr, N'Zogbia, Shearer, Milner, Dyer (Ameobi 35). Subs Not Used: Kluivert, Harper, Robert, Brittain. Booked: Ambrose.

MIDDLESBROUGH: Jones, Davies, Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue, Parlour, Doriva, Boateng, Zenden (Downing 65), Nemeth (Graham 83), Hasselbaink. Subs Not Used: Reiziger, Wheater, Knight. Booked: Hasselbaink, Doriva.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).