Newcastle's title hopes hit again by late goals

 

GEORDIE striker Graham Fenton ripped the heart out of Newcastle's championship hopes with a cruel late double at Ewood Park. Former Blackburn man David Batty looked to have repaid all of Kevin Keegan's faith in him with a sensational strike 14 minutes from time.

Batty, booed throughout by the Rovers fans after his £3.75 million move to the North East in February, received Steve Watson's pass to drill home a left foot shot from 20 yards for only his second goal in more than three years.

Keegan's men, who had battled away only to be repelled time and again by inspirational Tim Flowers, had finally gained the breakthrough they deserved and seemed set to cut Manchester United's Premiership lead to three points.

But that was counting without Wallsend born striker Fenton, who came off the substitutes' bench in place of Mike Newell when Batty netted.

With just four minutes left, the former Aston Villa man was on hand to ram the ball in off Shaka Hislop following a Darren Peacock deflection after Alan Shearer's shot had ricocheted into his path.

Newcastle, needing a win, threw everything forward and Flowers pulled off another great stop to foil Keith Gillespie in the final minute.

It was more than crucial, as Rovers pumped the rebound up the middle for Shearer to chase. And while John Beresford blocked, the ball fell perfectly for Fenton to chip deftly over Hislop and into the net.

Newcastle's heads were bowed, their colours lowered and while their fans sang loud in praise, the title may now have evaded them as they suffered their fifth defeat in eight games.

Although a win was essential, Keegan had resisted the temptation to reintroduce Gillespie to his starting line up, sticking with the side that started on Saturday although Peter Beardsley, rather than Robert Lee, started centrally.

Newcastle's task was stiffened by the appearance of suspension free Colin Hendry at the back for Rovers, who had the balance the Magpies were perhaps lacking with Stuart Ripley on the right.

Despite the importance of the occasion, the start was desperately low key. John Beresford survived two half hearted penalty appeals before Ripley fired at Hislop.

But after coping with relative ease, Newcastle decided to try and play some football, and when Les Ferdinand got in front of Hendry for the first time to meet, David Ginola's 27th minute cross, he should have hit the target.

Peacock was booked for kicking the ball away, but while Hislop's goal was threatened when a Ripley cross dropped on top of the crossbar, the championship chasers were more convincing.

Tim Flowers made an out standing instinctive block when Beardsley was first to react to Ferdinand's flicked header, although he was fortunate to see a miskicked clearance bounce off Ferdinand's back and into his arms.

Garry Flitcroft, for fouling Philippe Albert, and Shearer, for encroaching, added to referee Gary Willard's number of cautions as the period ended with Lee striking the side netting after excellent work by Faustino Asprilla.