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Michael Dawson was sent off for two bookable offences after the conceding of three first half goals cost us dearly against Newcastle on Saturday.

Michael Dawson was sent off for two bookable offences after the conceding of three first half goals cost us dearly against Newcastle on Saturday.

Robbie Keane did level the score following Lee Bowyer's opener, but further goals from Shola Ameobi and Alan Shearer from a penalty made a second half recovery an unlikely prospect.

There was a blow before kick-off when news filtered through that Ledley King would not be taking to the field at St James Park - an ankle injury sustained in training on Friday having not made a sufficient enough recovery to enable his participation.

It meant a start for Anthony Gardner alongside Dawson, while Mido was recalled in attack to partner Keane.

The towering stands at the home of the Magpies rang out with boos when the name of Jermaine Jenas was read out. The boos turned to cheers for the home team after just 65 seconds when Charles N'Zogbia got the better of both Gardner and Stephen Kelly down the left flank and the midfielder squared the ball beyond Paul Robinson leaving Bowyer the routine task of tapping into an empty net.

It was the worst possible beginning and another test of character for the lads without their inspirational skipper.

Bowyer had the chance to double the advantage when chasing a flick-on with Edgar Davids for company but thankfully failed to make much of a connection in front of goal and Robinson was able to prove too big a barricade. Newcastle were well on top, Shearer was presented with a clear shooting chance some ten or so yards out - this time Dawson throwing himself in the way.

Parity was restored against the run of play on 18 minutes when Aaron Lennon stretched his legs for the first time against Stephen Carr. Keane set him away down the left and, after feinting to cross, dashed for the line and whipped in a devilish cross that was met in a flash by the head of Keane and his Republic of Ireland teammate Shay Given was beaten all ends up.

Level pegging did not last too long because a low and powerful drive by Nolberto Solano was not gathered by Robinson and the most alert to the loose ball was Shola Ameobi who, despite a late challenge for the ball from Gardner, managed to drill into an unguarded net.

It quickly got worse just before the half hour mark when a clumsy shove by Davids on Bowyer inside the area was enough for referee Mr Dean to point to the spot. Cue Shearer - no mistake to Robinson's right. We simply weren't in it leading up to half-time and Ameobi could have added to his tally if he had kept his balance in front of goal.

Keane rattled the bar following a Jenas free-kick and the former Newcastle man had the ball in the net and ruled out, but it was not a first half we will remember with any fondness.

Jenas had to suffer howls of derision from the home support at the start of the second half when, following a misplaced header from centre half Craig Moore, he was through on goal to the left of the penalty area but pushed the ball a bit wide and crashed his shot into the side netting.

Keane was then desperately unlucky not to get a second when his shot beat Given but clipped the outside of the post.

Another sign that was simply not our day came on the hour when Shearer was given a little tug by Dawson and the referee reached for yellow, then red. There was shock in the ranks when a distraught Daws headed to the dressing room early for the second time this season. The central defender was booked before the break.

Martin made a change after the sending off with the introduction of Jermain Defoe for Lennon. Jenas was already operating at right back, with Kelly switched to the middle. There was little point in simply damage limitation at this stage of the game.

The response was spirited and possession was increased - Keane again trying his luck and not far away from the target after good work from Davids.

The boys battled to the end to reduce the deficit, but it was not to be in the North East.