Newcastle United 2 Derby County 2: Viduka unable to stem fans' discontent
In the context of some of Newcastle United's recent results at St James' Park this one did not possess the ground- shaking uproar of losses last month to Portsmouth and Liverpool. But in its own way, relying on Mark Viduka to score an 87th-minute equaliser against a Derby County side who had scored once in nine away games, and who had lost their previous seven matches, was arguably every bit as unimpressive.
Had Viduka not profited from a touch from the back-pedalling Derby captain, Darren Moore, Sam Allardyce would have felt another blast of discontent from home fans whose consternation at Newcastle's second-half performance was most understandable.
Having recovered from the shock of seeing the teenager, Giles Barnes, give Derby a sixth-minute lead with his first Premier League goal, Newcastle played reasonably coherently for the rest of the first half and Viduka snatched his first equaliser in the 27th minute. But once Kenny Miller restored Derby's lead early in the second half, the home side were disjointed.
"We are disappointed with the result but the performance in terms of chances was very, very good," said Allardyce, an opinion that may not be widespread.
Allardyce also pointed to the maintenance of an unbeaten run that is now four games: "A mini-recovery."
But his Tyneside sceptics will note that since the draw against Arsenal, Fulham were beaten by a last-minute penalty and Birmingham by an injury-time corner. Even with Viduka's late goal, Derby have taken four points off Newcastle this season – four of Derby's total of seven. Three of their eight goals have come against Newcastle.
"Our basic defending has allowed the opposition to have two shots on target and score two goals," Allardyce said. A flaccid back four was culpable on Barnes' opener and David Rozehnal was weak in permitting Miller to go through him for the second. Three of the back four were signed in the summer by Allardyce, who took off Rozehnal five minutes later.
Derby's manager, Paul Jewell, was as concerned by his team's defending. "Shambolic," was his description, at least on Newcastle's goals. "If they'd scored great goals then fair enough, but that's why we're bottom of the League."
Having lost his captain, Matt Oakley on Thursday, Jewell saw Claude Davis injured in the warm-up. Derby were down to 16 fit players and in the circumstances their effort was admirable. Despite the shuffle, Derby's composure was aided by Barnes' strike.
When Miller slid a short pass to him, the 19-year-old was 22 yards out. Newcastle's defence sat off him. With time to measure a shot, Barnes beat Shay Given in the bottom corner.
St James' response to that was not overly critical and there was vocal support three minutes later when Charles N'Zogbia burst into the Derby area only for Jay McEveley to make a great last-ditch clearance. The atmosphere remained supportive as Alan Smith claimed a penalty, Obafemi Martins had a header knocked off the line by Barnes and Stephen Bywater saved with Habib Beye at his feet.
When Viduka scored three minutes later it was not undeserved. Smith's tenacity got the ball to the Australian, whose finish was emphatic. However, for all Newcastle's chasing it was to be another 49 minutes before Bywater made his next direct save. It came from an erratic cross from Damien Duff, in his first appearance since April. Bywater then saved from James Milner before being beaten by Viduka again.
It was unconvincing overall and Allardyce needs an improvement at Wigan on Wednesday.
Goals: Barnes (6) 0-1; Viduka (27) 1-1; Miller (52) 1-2; Viduka (87) 2-2.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Beye, Rozehnal (Taylor, 58) Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Martins, Barton (Emre, 75) Butt (Duff, 68) Milner; Smith, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Geremi.
Derby County (4-4-2) Bywater; Mears, Moore, Leacock, McEveley; Teale (Feilhaber, 81) Barnes, Pearson, Lewis (Fagan, 77); Howard, Miller. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Holmes, Earnshaw.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Newcastle Butt, N'Zogbia; Derby County Teale, Miller.
Man of the match: Pearson