Middlesbrough 1 Newcastle United 4
Alan Shearer scored his first goals since December 16 as Newcastle came from behind in controversial circumstances to plunge derby rivals Middlesbrough into deeper trouble.
The 31-year-old levelled from the penalty spot on 31 minutes and then added a superb second 12 minutes from time to cap an eventful afternoon on Teesside.
Colin Cooper had given the home side the perfect start with a third-minute header, but keeper Mark Schwarzer’s dismissal for a trip on the excellent Laurent Robert sparked a collapse as defender Nicos Dabizas put the visitors in front, and then saw Robert make it 3-1 with his first goal for the club before the former England skipper put the icing on the cake.
But Boro, who have now lost all four of their Premiership games this season, will feel hard done by after United keeper Shay Given received only a yellow card for a trip on Paul Ince and then saved Jonathan Greening’s spot-kick.
Shearer returned to the starting line-up for the first time since March 3 as England Under-21 international Shola Ameobi made way, and there was also a place for Chilean midfielder Clarence Acuna, who came in for the injured Gary Speed.
Nolberto Solano, who this week turned his back on international football to commit himself to his club, was also included after shaking off the effects of his long trip back from South America.
Boro were again without the injured Alen Boksic and the suspended Ugo Ehiogu, but there was a debut for £600,000 signing Allan Johnston and Brian Deane was asked to partner Dean Windass in attack.
Derby games are often high on passion and low on quality, but the one thing that was not in short supply at the Riverside Stadium was incident.
Boro flew at their opponents from the off and needed just three minutes to record their first goal of the season when Cooper got in front of his marker to glance a deft header past Given from Ince’s free-kick.
That provided just the impetus Steve McClaren’s side needed after three successive defeats, and as Deane and Windass made life uncomfortable for Dabizas and Aaron Hughes, and Greening and Johnston got the bit between their teeth on the wings, they enjoyed an extended period of superiority.
However, that was all blown away in a remarkable 10-minute period towards the end of the first half when the game was turned on its head.
Ince sent a 31st-minute corner in from the right which Robbie Elliott did well to head away, and when Robert’s clever flick gave the pacy Craig Bellamy a chance to run at a stretched rearguard, the alarm bells were ringing.
The Welshman timed his return pass to Frenchman Robert perfectly, and when he was felled as he rounded Schwarzer, referee Graham Poll needed little time to serve up the double whammy of a penalty and a red card.
Shearer kept his nerve to beat substitute keeper Mark Crossley inside his right post and drag his side back into the game.
But there was more drama five minutes before the break when Mr Poll pointed to the spot once again, this time for Given’s trip on Ince, but his decision to show the Irishman only a yellow card ensured that he was heartily booed from the pitch at the break.
Greening was handed the task of beating Given from the spot, but his weak kick was well saved to leave a sense of injustice festering among the home supporters.
Boro emerged for the second half determined at least to hang on to the point in their possession, but their hopes died within the space of two manic minutes.
First the men in red allowed a vicious Robert cross to travel to the far post on the hour when Dabizas, loitering after an unproductive corner, could scarcely believe his luck, and then the game was effectively over on 62 minutes.
Steve Vickers looked to have Rob Lee’s ball over the top covered, but he hopelessly under-hit his back pass and Robert this time stayed on his feet as he rounded the keeper to slot home.
From then on, it was little more than a procession as the Teessiders more or less accepted their fate and the Tynesiders seemed happy enough with their lot, although Shearer’s thunderous 78th-minute drive from Robert’s pass wrapped things up in style.