Newcastle remain clear at the top of the Championship after a late Andy Carroll strike salvaged a point to deny Middlesbrough a derby-day triumph over their bitter North-East rivals, in front of a crowd of over 27,000.
The pulsating Tyne-Tees derby failed to disappoint from start to finish, with both sides feeling they deserved more than a point from a 2-2 draw at the final whistle. The game began at a fast pace, with the home side feeling they should have been awarded a penalty inside the first minute, after Scott McDonald appeared to be clipped inside the area by Fabricio Coloccini, but protests were waved away by referee Lee Mason. Middlesbrough dominated the opening quarter of an hour, but it was the visitors who took the lead with their first shot on goal; a clever through ball by Jonas Gutierrez found an unmarked Peter Lovenkrands, who cooly slotted home from close range in front of the 4,000 strong Toon army. Steve Harper was then forced into making a terrific save in the Newcastle goal, denying Barry Robson from a well struck free-kick. Middlesbrough’s persistence was finally rewarded on 36 minutes; fine link up play between ex Celtic duo Scott McDonald and Barry Robson on the edge of the penalty area saw Robson let fly from 20 yards, bending his shot into the bottom corner, this time leaving Harper a mere spectator.
Things threatened to turn ugly off the pitch during the game, with a section of the home supporters revealing a banner with the words – ‘Trophy Virgins’ directed at the away contingent, much to the amusement of the Boro faithful, but not the onlooking Mike Ashley and stadium officers.
The second half carried on where the first left off, with both teams creating numerous chances, more noteabley Gutierrez testing Coyne with a miss-hit cross towards the back post, whilst at the other end, former Sunderland midfielder Julio Arca fluffed his shot after being sent clean through by Gary O’Neill. A third goal seemed on the cards and on cue, a dangerous Robson free-kick was nodded back across goal by Chris Killen and converted on the turn by Scott Mcdonald, claiming his first goal in red and white to send the home faithful wild.
But the lead wasn’t to last; like so often this season, Newcastle exploited Middlesbrough’s downfall to hold out for the win and were punished with a well taken goal by Andy Carroll, after some good work down the right hand side by Ryan Taylor. The closing stages proved to be a tense backs to the wall job for Boro, with both Carroll and Leon Best going close to snatching all three points for the league leaders.
Middlesbrough will no doubt feel hard done by to not come away with a win in the circumstances, but their play-off hopes aren’t fully dead in the water yet, with five teams above them failing to take advantage by gaining three points. After the match, Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan expressed his frustration at the referee’s decision not to award Middlesbrough a first minute penalty – ‘We should have had a penalty in the first two minutes, and the referee just to make it up, allowed us to get away with a free-kick 30 seconds after it. If you are going to make a decision, referee, don’t try to even it up. It’s not right, we don’t want that.’ Strachan is likely to feel the brunt of his comments, if persued by the FA. For Newcastle though, promotion looks a certainty, but for Middlesbrough and their diminishing play-off hopes, they may have to wait a while before their next North-East derby.
By Jamie Shaw