Premier League – Owen strikes as Newcastle hold Birmingham
Birmingham and Newcastle shared a point after fighting for a 1-1 draw at St Andrews in their important encounter at the foot of the Premier League table, Michael Owen striking from close range in front of England manager Fabio Capello to equalise.
James McFadden‘s first-half finish gave Birmingham a deserved lead at the break, only for Owen to stab home during an improved second-half performance from Newcastle.
Owen was guilty of missing a glorious chance to equalise before his determined slide and finish. A cross deflected off David Murphy‘s hand, causing the visiting players to demand a penalty; however the ball fell to Owen, who had time to pick his spot.
Maik Taylor flew out and blocked as the striker tried to flick past him, diverting the ball past the far post.
‘A game of two halves’ would be an accurate assessment of the match, which pitted two sides within touching distance of the bottom three against one another.
Before kick-off Bolton, in the highest relegation spot, were only three points behind the Magpies and one in arrears of Birmingham.
There was only one team that looked likely to increase that gap in the first 45 minutes. While Newcastle sent long balls forward and failed to execute simple passes, Birmingham played with guile in their opponents’ half and gave Scot McFadden space around the box.
Larsson shot marginally wide of the near post on the turn as City won a succession of corners. Steve Harper was in good form to keep them at bay until McFadden’s strike on 33 minutes.
Murphy lifted a cross towards his feet and the former Everton striker turned in the box, shrugging off a weak challenge from Abdoulaye Faye. He allowed the ball to drop and sent it past the advancing Harper.
Faye learned his lesson, blocking McFadden before half-time when the wily front-man turned. Referee Howard Webb was not interested in his penalty claim.
Sebastian Larsson had to go off with an injury at the break after Nicky Butt took a wild swipe at him that went unpunished, possibly a little retribution for a shove a minute earlier that sent the Toon midfielder into his own dug-out from the touchline.
Almost immediately after the restart Faye gave the ball straight to an opponent in his own defensive zone and Harper had to be alert to parry Forssell’s effort.
That seemed a portent of future gloom for Kevin Keegan’s men. However the popular manager must have delivered some inspiring – or perhaps cutting – words in the dressing room as his players went on to turn the game around.
Owen’s golden chance came on 50 minutes in front of the travelling fans. They must have feared that a fifth straight defeat was heading their way, but after six minutes of pressure the striker had the ball in the net as Capello looked on.
Obafemi Martins, finding his feet in a bold three-man attack also featuring Mark Viduka, got a low shot off to the near post. Taylor saved but could not hold and an alert Owen was there ahead of three defenders to score an important goal in Newcastle’s season.
On his return after injury Viduka looked rusty when he opted to feed Martins on the right as United broke. Owen had more space on the left and the Australian’s pass did not even fall kindly for the Nigerian. Birmingham, who looked increasingly threatened, survived.
Martins forced Taylor into more work with another low dig but the ‘keeper would have been far busier if Geremi‘s delivery from corner kicks had been of decent quality.
The Cameroonian had been booked in the first half and there were further yellow cards for Stuart Parnaby – on at half-time for the injured Larsson – Stephen Kelly and Steven Taylor as fatigue set in and the occasion boiled down to the last few vital minutes.
However there was barely a chance in the final 20 minutes and the sides shared the spoils, Keegan’s Newcastle relieved at picking up a point at the fifth attempt despite extending their winless run under him to eight league matches.
Alex McLeish’s Birmingham missed out on the chance to leapfrog the Magpies and were perhaps left wondering why their first-half superiority dissipated so suddenly. However they must also have been ultimately pleased with something from the game, which moves them above Sunderland.