Shearer strike keeps Keegan confident

by Peter Whitfield of "Press Association"

Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler shared the honours in the battle of the hotshots as Newcastle and Liverpool fought out a 1-1 draw at St James' Park tonight.

Shearer fired Newcastle into a 28th-minute lead, pouncing for his 13th goal of the season after Les Ferdinand's header had been tipped on to the bar by David James.

But Fowler conjured up an equaliser on the stroke of half-time with his 19th of the campaign and Liverpool survived a second-half onslaught from the Magpies to move three points clear at the top of the Premiership.

The Merseysiders go into the remainder of the Christmas programme well positioned to challenge for their first Championship in seven years.

But the stalemate, which failed to match last season's 4-3 epic at Anfield, left Newcastle nursing another blow to their faltering title challenge.

Newcastle's third draw in six games left them in sixth place, without a win in six Premiership games and seven points adrift of Roy Evans' title favourites.

But Kevin Keegan's side at least recovered some of the lost confidence which has seen them claim just four points from the last 18.

Liverpool had scored 11 goals in their last two games but had only kept two clean sheets in their last 18 matches a statistic to offer Newcastle encouragement.

Keegan named an unchanged side from the one which had lost 2-1 at Coventry six days earlier. The Magpies had David Batty completing a three-match suspension and Faustino Asprilla, John Beresford and Steve Howey injured.

Liverpool were also unchanged with Fowler recovering from the ankle injury that forced him to limp out of the 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest.

Roy Evans made one change on the bench with Lee Jones replacing hamstring victim Jamie Redknapp.

Liverpool almost stunned Newcastle straight from the kick-off as a Fowler and Collymore combination ended with Fowler heading over Pavel Srnicek 30 yards out as the Czech keeper challenged him.

The ball was heading towards the net but Darren Peacock raced back into his penalty area to hook clear and, in any case, the offside flag had been raised against Fowler.

Newcastle were unnerved and Liverpool dominated the opening five minutes but Peter Beardsley brought the Magpies to life in the 10th minute.

The Newcastle skipper's shrewd pass found Ferdinand unmarked eight yards out with his back to the goal but the England striker's shot on the turn lacked power and was aimed straight at Liverpool keeper David James.

Fowler headed wide at the far post from Jason McAteer's cross, Ferdinand tested James with a long-range effort and Michael Thomas halted Keith Gillespie's thrilling run with a well-timed tackle just outside the home penalty area.

Mark Wright picked up a 28th-minute booking for bringing down David Ginola two yards to the left of the Liverpool box and Newcastle took the lead from the Frenchman's resulting free kick.

Ferdinand climbed to power in a header which James managed to palm onto the crossbar but when the ball bounced down Shearer pounced to rifle the ball into the roof of the net and fire Newcastle ahead.

Liverpool's response was instant and McManaman fired into the side-netting from a narrow angle after rounding Srnicek.

Fowler volleyed wide at the far post from McAteer's cross, Thomas shot straight at Srnicek from the edge of the box as Liverpool stepped up the pressure and Newcastle lost the limping Ginola in the 36th minute. Lee Clark replaced him and slotted into midfield with Steve Watson moving into a left wingback role.

Fowler squandered a wonderful opening two minutes from the break when he dragged his shot wide from close range after McManaman had headed down McAteer's cross but he made amends with an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

McManaman supplied the cross from the left byline and Fowler found enough space to steer a low shot wide of Srnicek.

James came to Liverpool's rescue three minutes into the second-half, diving to his left to pull off a one-handed save to deny Ferdinand after Shearer's pass had put his striking partner through on goal.

Newcastle were undeterred and they mounted a fierce and prolonged spell of pressure in which James was kept busy as the shots rained in on goal.

Beardsley fired a left-foot effort narrowly wide, James tipped efforts from Shearer and Rob Lee behind for corners, and Albert's lob was just too high when James was out of position after losing out in an aerial challenge with Ferdinand.

Liverpool's defence was rocking but Newcastle's also looked vulnerable whenever the visitors broke with Fowler and McManaman always a danger.

Ruddock came to Liverpool's rescue - cutting out Gillespie's cross from the left byline after the Northern Ireland winger had skipped past McAteer and the visitors had another escape in the 72nd minute when Thomas headed off the line to deny Watson, whose edge-of-the-area effort had James beaten.

Liverpool were living dangerously and they breathed another sigh of relief when Beardsley's 74th-minute left-foot volley flashed across James and just wide of the far post.

Kevin Keegan issued a "don't write us off" warning to Newcastle's title rivals after seeing his side fight out a 1-1 draw with leaders Liverpool at St James' Park.

Robbie Fowler's equaliser on the stoke of half-time cancelled out Alan Shearer's 28th-minute opener and set Liverpool on their way to a point that leaves them three points clear at the top.

Newcastle's draw left them seven points adrift of Roy Evans' side, who are now 6-4 favourites to claim their first championship in seven years.

But sixth-placed Newcastle have a game in hand and Keegan has not given up on his out-of-form side, despite a run of six Premiership games without a win.

"I still believe we can win it," said Keegan. "If we win our game in hand we are only four points behind Liverpool and I wouldn't want to write off anyone who is only four points behind."

"If we had lost, Liverpool would have been 10 points clear, but this keeps us in touch we are hanging onto their tails."

Keegan admitted that Newcastle had once again struggled to find their best form and although Liverpool came under heavy pressure during the second half the Newcastle boss felt the Merseysiders were worth their point.

"All we deserved was a point and you have got to give Liverpool credit for a good performance," said Keegan.

"We raised it in the second half and created quite a few chances but we were battling and scrapping and we never really got any fluency in our football."

"We were never in control of the game which is always a hard thing to achieve against Liverpool."

Liverpool boss Roy Evans welcomed his side's point but predicted that the title race would remain tight for the remainder of the campaign.

"We would all love to say that we will win our next 19 games but I don't think it is going to be like that. There's going to be lots of teams in there with a shout until the end of the season."

"We have come to Newcastle and got a good result out of a difficult game but there are still a lot of points to play for."

Keegan revealed a double injury blow for Newcastle ahead of their Boxing Day trip to Blackburn. David Ginola limped off in the first half with a calf strain and Keith Gillespie suffered a groin strain in the dying minutes.

Both are likely to miss the visit to Ewood Park although the Magpies will welcome David Batty back from suspension to face his former club.

"David's got a slight chance but Keith might miss the next three," said a rueful Keegan.

Newcastle striker Alan Shearer tonight insisted the title race is far from over after his side's 1-1 draw with Liverpool made it six Premiership games without a win for the Magpies.

The St James' Park draw means Newcastle remain seven points behind Roy Evans' side.

"We needed a victory but seven points is nothing. We've got a game in hand so we could get it down to four," said Shearer.

"It's not a concern. We were disappointed not to win but we haven't been beaten, we've taken a point and there's something to build on."

Man of the Match Mark Wright said it had been a "Magnificent result" for the table-toppers but there was no reason to get carried away.

"It's a good feeling but it counts for nothing unless we can get a result against Leicester," he said.

Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan said a point was all his side deserved and the former Liverpool hero was full of praise for his old club.

Asked if he thought Liverpool would win the title he said: "I think that's a possibility and if we couldn't win it I'd be delighted if they could."

"There are a real good side with some really exciting players. I thought Collymore did very well tonight and Fowler, McManaman are always a threat."

"Whoever wins it is going to have to beat them, including us. But I was happy with the way we battled tonight."

Copyright - Press Association

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