Three man forward line fires blanks as Newcastle struggle

Three man forward line fires blanks as Newcastle struggle

Newcastle 0 Portsmouth 0

Michael Owen passed up the chance to fire Newcastle to a potentially life-saving victory as Alan Shearer was left staring down the barrel of a gun.

The 29-year-old striker was denied by veteran goalkeeper David James’ legs after he was played in by Mark Viduka 63 minutes into a pulsating encounter, which both sides had chances to win.

James had earlier saved from Damien Duff, and Viduka and Obafemi Martins both went close on a night when the Magpies needed all three points to rekindle their hopes of Barclays Premier League survival.

However, it might have been even worse for Shearer’s men with Peter Crouch firing straight at Steve Harper with 11 minutes remaining and Richard Hughes heading against the foot of the post three minutes later.

Shearer had set his side the task of winning their remaining three home games to drag themselves out of relegation trouble but, having fallen at the first hurdle, they now face the daunting prospect of having to get something at Liverpool on Sunday.

The 38-year-old made a series of statements ahead of kick-off when he named all three of his big-name strikers – Owen, Viduka and Martins – in his starting line-up and left Kevin Nolan and Ryan Taylor, two of the three men signed during yet another disastrous January transfer window, out of the 18.

He had appealed in advance for passionate support from the stands and he got just that, with the help of a rousing rendition of Blaydon Races from opera star Graeme Danby moments before kick-off.

But what he needed most was a response from his players and he got that too.

Newcastle took the game to Pompey from the off and, what they lacked in guile and craft in the middle of the park, they made up for in effort and commitment.

That they went in at half-time with nothing to show for their efforts was down to a combination of poor finishing, good defending and one excellent save from Shearer’s former England team-mate James.

However, the applause they received as they left the pitch could only serve to increase their determination not to be denied once they returned.

With Pompey fielding Crouch as a lone striker and, at times, getting all 11 men behind the ball, the Magpies had to remain patient.

Alan Smith, still waiting for his first goal in a black and white shirt, had optimistic appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Mike Riley when his driven 30th-minute shot was blocked by Hermann Hreidarsson’s arm, and the former Manchester United midfielder fired just over five minutes later.

In the meantime, Viduka only just failed to turn a low drive from substitute Danny Guthrie, on for injured full-back Jose Enrique, past James.

But Newcastle’s best two chances of the half came inside the final seven minutes, James making a fine save to push Duff’s goal-bound effort around the post, while Martins saw a close-range shot deflected over the bar with seconds remaining.

Pompey created little as they attempted to hit their hosts on the counter-attack, although Harper had to tip a 33rd-minute curler from Sean Davis over the bar.

Viduka was presented with a glorious chance to open the scoring within seconds of the restart after Owen cleverly back-heeled Martins’ pass into his path.

However, the Australian could only stab his effort straight at James as the blue shirts closed on him.

Fabricio Coloccini endured a heart-stopping moment when Crouch went to ground inside the box under his 50th-minute challenge but, again, Riley was in no mood to award a spot-kick.

James was alert enough to prevent Martins from reaching a long ball four minutes later, if only just, but, as the game became increasingly stretched, play switched rapidly from end to end.

The Pompey keeper almost handed Newcastle a glorious chance on a plate when he dropped Duff’s cross with Viduka and Owen close at hand, although he redeemed himself with 63 minutes gone.

Viduka managed to squeeze the ball through the Portsmouth defence, despite having been wrestled to the ground, to leave Owen with just the keeper to beat, but James blocked with his legs to leave Shearer with his head in his hands.

The manager introduced Andy Carroll and Jonas Gutierrez for Viduka and Nicky Butt in a desperate attempt to find a winner but it was Nadir Belhadj who forced a fine fingertip save from Harper after a lightning 73rd-minute break.

Carroll looped a 77th-minute header high over but it was Pompey who staged the grandstand finish that might have resulted in victory had Crouch been able to beat Harper or had Hughes’ header landed six inches to the right.

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