With Wanderers on a break from the battle for survival, Gordon Sharrock goes back five years to when the Reebok witnessed a vital victory.
FLUKE or no fluke, Henrik Pedersen’s fourth minute goal was one of the most important strikes of this or any other season.
Sam Allardyce’s Whites had not won a Premier League game since January and five successive defeats, including the Carling Cup final heartbreaker when they lost 2-1 to Middlesbrough at the Millennium Stadium, had the alarm bells ringing.
So when Pedersen, pictured celebrating with Kevin Nolan, caught Newcastle keeper Shay Given off his line with a hit-and-hope lob from way out on the left, relief rang round the Reebok. Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson had no doubt that the dashing Dane got lucky.
“He could have tried that 40 times without scoring,” Robson said. “He’s not a good enough player to have meant that. I think he was trying to cross it.”
Who cared? Wanderers lived very much on their nerves for the next 86 minutes and were grateful to the defence and keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen who cancelled out the twin threat of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy. Nevertheless, the hard-earned victory was well-deserved and ever so welcome, taking the Whites to 37 points – nine clear of the bottom three with eight games to play.
Wanderers: Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Frandsen 72), Thome, N’Gotty (Howey 46), Charlton; Nolan, Campo, Okocha; Stelios, Davies, Pedersen. Not used: Vaz Te, Pezzarossi, Poole.
Newcastle United: Given; Taylor, Bramble, Woodgate, Bernard; Bowyer (Ambrose 72), Speed, Jenas (Viana 72), Robert (Ameobi 72); Bellamy, Shearer. Not used: Elliott, Harper.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral). Attendance: 27,360.