Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Euro Hopes on the Slide

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Euro Hopes on the Slide

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

Those who fear Newcastle will fall at the final hurdle in this season's increasingly tense fight for fourth place could soon have their worst fears allayed.

One more miserable away performance this season and United will be well off the pace by the time Sir Bobby Robson's men play Liverpool at Anfield on May 15.

And, on this startling evidence, the Magpies will be fortunate to find themselves joining Middlesbrough in the hat for the 2004-05 Uefa Cup draw.

Significantly, Newcastle have failed to win one of their last 10 league games away and surely such dire form does not deserve the reward of a Champions League qualifier.

Yesterday's second-half display lacked the desire, determination and drive necessary to kill off a team which had descended into freefall with five successive defeats.

And, although it was Steven Taylor's fourth-minute error which allowed Henrik Pedersen to score the only goal of an open game, the promising defender should not be blamed for a result which reflected so poorly on this season's Uefa Cup quarter-finalists. A regular for Tommy Craig's reserve team, the 18-year-old skippered his country in the World Youth Championships last year and won a first England Under-21 cap last month.

However, it was only during the latter stages of Thursday's Uefa Cup tie in Mallorca that Newcastle supporters caught their first glimpse of the former Monkseaton High School pupil in senior action.

And, following his composed show in Spain, Robson had no hesitation in fielding the centre-half out of position against the team which put four past Shay Given in the corresponding fixture last season.

Taylor, like hamstring victim Andy O'Brien, does not favour a full-back role, but his selection in the Irish international's absence ensured the realisation of a boyhood dream.

That dream turned to a nightmare as he was horribly exposed down the Bolton left and within seconds Wanderers were in front.

A hopeful punt forward bounced awkwardly in front of backtracking Taylor but the youngster still appeared favourite to clear the danger. Somehow the muscular Pedersen knocked Newcastle's emergency right-back out of his stride and, spotting Shay Given yards off his line, floated a cross-cum-shot into the far corner of the Irishman's goal.

Liverpool, Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City fans everywhere could hardly have asked for a better start as the home side could have been 3-0 ahead after eight minutes!

Titus Bramble was fortunate to survive a penalty appeal after appearing to handle inside his own area and Nicky Hunt capitalised on Laurent Robert's defending to fire a dangerous cross into the six-yard area. Only Bramble's block prevented Pedersen snatching a second.

Attack was the only method of defence available to a United side bereft of ideas at the back and in Craig Bellamy they at least had a player capable of providing momentary relief. …

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