Newcastle and Middlesbrough players lined up at St. James Park knowing the victors would leave with a far increased chance of survival in the Premier League, and the losing side would face almost certain relegation into the Championship.
Newcastle started the brightest with two chances inside the first minute as Michael Owen failed to get on the end of a promising through ball from Gutierrez, before he lined up Danny Guthrie, who sliced his shot well wide.
But it was Middlesbrough who stunned the home crowd by going ahead in the third minute with a goal that sums up the season for both teams.
A great turn from Tuncay saw him pass Habib Beye, but he was unable to steer his shop past goalkeeper Harper, who to blocked the ball, which then bounced onto the leg of a stumbling Beye and into the net. Middlesbrough’s first away goal of 2009, an own goal.
Newcastle could have responded almost immediately when a Mark Viduka volley struck the woodwork and Steven Taylor blasted the follow up over the bar from close range. But the Geordie faithful didn’t have to wait long until Taylor redeemed himself later as Newcastle drew level in the ninth minute.
Taylor broke free from his marker, with the help of an outstretched Kevin Nolan leg, to power home a fantastic header from Danny Guthrie’s well-placed corner.
After the chaos of the opening 10 minutes, Newcastle looked the better side for much of the first half, keeping possession of the ball well and pressuring Middlesbrough, but as in previous weeks, they failed to produce much that would test Boro’s Australian goalkeeper from open play, looking most dangerous from set pieces.
Their best chance came after 26 minutes when Mark Viduka broke free from Hoyte and Emnes on the left to put in a dangerous curling ball, which was met by Michael Owen, whose header was matched by Boro keeper Brad Jones, who tipped the fierce header over the bar.
Not wanting to be outdone, Middlesbrough called Steven Harper into action seconds later when the ball broke free to Marvin Emnes whose low, curling shot was well-saved by Harper’s legs and the Dutch striker really should have done better when he collected the follow up, but he pushed his shot wide.
The half time whistle brought an end to a flowing and exciting first half during which both teams showed why they are in such desperate positions with a series of missed chances and a lack of killer instinct in the final third.
The second half started in much the same vein with a stray pass from Marlon King, who had replaced the injured Alves, leading to a dangerous Newcastle free kick that was deflected wide by the wall.
Newcastle continued to control the game in terms of possession but failed to break down the Middlesbrough defence any more than in the first half, with Boro continuing to look somewhat dangerous on the counter attack.
It was from one of these counter attacks that Boro brought out the first save of the second half as Gary O’Neil blasted a shot goalwards when the ball eventually fell to him after a number of Boro players had tried to find an opening before him.
The chance marked the beginning of a dominant spell for Middlesbrough who, like Newcastle, failed to turn the spell into a clear opportunity, never mind a goal.
With time running out, and a draw not helpful to either team, both managers brought on new attacking players, but it was Shearer’s change that had the immediate affect.
Obafemi Martins found himself with a shooting opportunity from a Mark Viduka flick on, and despite losing his footing managed to steer the ball past goalkeeper Brad Jones to put Newcastle ahead.
Although, replays showed Kevin Nolan, who made a clear effort to get the ball before Martins, was in an offside position.
Newcastle could have made it three from a Nicky Butt free kick that sailed wide of the post, but as Southgate made his final change in an effort to claim an equaliser, Newcastle looked far from comfortable defensively, but still managed to push forward and counter attack, again looking most dangerous from set pieces.
Newcastle eventually did make it three with five minutes remaining when another substitute, Peter Lovenkrands, took full advantage of a bang on the head to defender Bates to break free and smash home a Kevin Nolan cross from close range.
Boro piled forward in the closing minutes, leaving big gaps at the back, and substitute Andy Carrol almost took advantage of this, only to see two shots well stopped by Brad Jones as the magpies held on comfortably to a two-goal lead that saw the Magpies fans celebrating and chanting the name of Alan Shearer, whose substitution has given them renewed hope of survival.
The result lifts Newcastle outside of the relegation zone on goal difference, and leaves Middlesbrough three points adrift.
Another victory next week for the Magpies, coupled with a defeat for Hull will all but guarantee the North East clubs safety thanks to their superior goal difference.
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