Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

United's Lucky Win Papers the Cracks

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

United's Lucky Win Papers the Cracks

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

How can a club so rich often appear so poor? That was the riddle facing the Newcastle supporters who poured out of St James's Park last night following another fortunate home victory and another unconvincing display.

United's performance off the park has seen the Magpies rocket into the top 10 of the world's richest football clubs, but on the field Sir Bobby Robson's men are struggling to stay with the pace.

Second-half goals from impressive substitute Shola Ameobi should not be allowed to gloss over yet another dubious showing which posed more questions than it answered. And Robson will surely require increased resolve at the outset of next week's fourth round first leg.

Anyone present at the Ullevaal Stadium last week knew this unpredictable tie was far from over. And in the absence of four recognised right midfielders, Robson turned to one of Tyneside's own in his hour of need by handing Michael Bridges a first St James's Park start. With Alan Shearer recalled six days after his Oslo omission this should have been the team to make revered scout Jack Hixon jump with joy. Master and pupil together at last.

Two Geordies, one mission. To ease the pressure on one of their own and take another step closer to that first major trophy in 35 years.

Bridges, on loan from Leeds until the end of the season, had waited patiently for the opportunity to start a first-team fixture for his boyhood heroes. Shearer, by contrast, had waited impatiently on the bench in Oslo last week as his beloved Magpies stole a draw against the far from mighty Vikings of Valerenga.

United by determination and yet divided by a generation, Newcastle's local heroes were desperate to deliver. Shearer, without a goal from open play since January 11 and Bridges, without a senior goal for as long as he would care to remember, carried the hopes of a city on their shoulders and the fear of failure in their hearts. A catastrophic repeat of August's capitulation at the hands of Partizan Belgrade would hit two self-confessed Gallowgate fanatics harder than most, perhaps hardest of all.

For Shearer another cup exit would mean another missed chance as he seeks to add that elusive winners' medal to a vault filled with memories of what might have been. For Bridges time is similarly precious - with no guarantee of a United contract beyond this summer, the need to impress Robson is paramount.

Shearer, at least, was able to make an immediate impact, resorting to a familiar routine to reap maximum reward. Valerenga goalkeeper Oyvind Bolthof had covered himself in glory in the ninth minute, somehow managing to block the Newcastle skipper's opportunistic strike from six yards, but the visitors' hero turned to villain moments later.

Carrying the ball outside his area to clear, the orange-shirted stopper was correctly penalised by alert referee Eric Braamhaar and United were suddenly gifted a golden opportunity 19 yards from goal. …

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