Comedy of errors ends in farce


ENGLISH FA PREMIERSHIP/Newcastle Utd ... 2 Tottenham Hotspur ... 1: An afternoon of almost surreal entertainment, some of it comical, some of it not that good and some of it quietly impressive, ended in appropriate fashion yesterday.

As Alan Shearer was interviewed for television and was asked, fairly unbelievably given the sloppiness of much of the match, whether Newcastle United were legitimate title contenders, his team-mate Laurent Robert strode aggressively into the press room and grabbed a local reporter who has been consistently critical of him.

The trouble was that Robert got the wrong man - not for the first time this season - but still had to be pulled off the journalist by Kieron Dyer and Lomana Lua-Lua, who had followed him from the dressing room. When Glenn Hoddle then emerged to reveal the extent of Christian Ziege's leg condition, the day had its top hat.

There were individuals who performed efficiently: Shearer, Aaron Hughes and Jermaine Jenas for Newcastle; Steffen Freund, Gus Poyet and, belatedly, Teddy Sheringham for Spurs. But there were an awful lot of awful errors in between.

Nikos Dabizas's towering own-goal which gave Spurs hope for the last 17 minutes was the most glaring example, but the way Simon Davies allowed Gary Speed to break for Newcastle's opener was slack and Ledley King's marking of Shearer for Newcastle's second was non-existent. King looked anything but an England player yesterday.

There were mitigating factors. This was a game that decided who would finish the year fourth in the Premiership and both sides are obviously capable of much more.

Speed, who had drilled in Andy O'Brien's knockdown with his right foot in the 17th minute, departed six minutes later with a hernia problem. This will require an operation and the Welshman could be out for six weeks.

Dyer and Nolberto Solano both made it to half-time but departed with a calf strain and concussion respectively. Both will have scans today but are doubts for Liverpool. With Hugo Viana ruled out until March at the earliest, Newcastle suddenly have a mini crisis in midfield. The good news for Bobby Robson was that Hughes and Jenas displayed maturity beyond their years. Jenas (19) was a relentless presence against players far more experienced.

Both helped ensure Spurs could not build upon Dabizas's flying header which sped past Shay Given. Sheringham provided the cross for that goal but, neat and tidy though he was, he could not create another opening for Steffen Iversen, Robbie Keane or Iversen's replacement Les Ferdinand.

Without Darren Anderton because of flu but with the Uruguayan Poyet prominent, Given was forced into saves from Mauricio Taricco and then Poyet in the first half-hour.

Newcastle were creaking at the back but, as the play swept from end to end, so were Spurs. Kasey Keller made an alert save from Hughes and from the resulting corner Taricco cleared off the line to deny Shearer.

Newcastle's second came after a quick long throw from Robert. Craig Bellamy was initially blocked by Freund and Tottenham had the opportunity then to reorganise. Shearer was waiting at the far post but King did not use the time to get closer to him, so when Bellamy crossed again Shearer had a free header which he directed past Keller.

NEWCASTLE: Given, Hughes, O'Brien, Caldwell, Bernard, Solano (LuaLua 45), Dyer (Dabizas 45), Speed (Jenas 23), Robert, Shearer, Bellamy. Subs Not Used: Harper, Ameobi. Booked: Dabizas. Goals: Speed 17, Shearer 58.

TOTTENHAM: Keller, Perry, Bunjevcevic, King, Carr, Poyet (Sheringham 68), Freund, Davies, Taricco, Keane (Acimovic 79), Iversen (Ferdinand 68). Subs Not Used: Sullivan, Thatcher. Booked: Freund, Perry. Goals: Dabizas 73 og.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).