Mark Viduka was unable to inspire Newcastle United to victory as they were forced to settle for a point in a Premier League stalemate at North-East neighbours Middlesbrough. Joe Kinnear celebrated his first game since signing a new contract until the end of the season by guiding his side out of the bottom three with a hard-earned 0-0 draw in an uncompromising Tees-Tyne derby at the Riverside Stadium. But the interim manager left fans baffled by hauling off the impressive Obafemi Martins midway through the second-half to hand Viduka his first taste of action in more than six months.
Martins left Kinnear in little doubt as to his feelings at his unexpected exit despite being Newcastle's most potent attacking threat, the Nigerian international storming off straight down the tunnel without so much as a glance towards the bench. Australian international Viduka looked understandably off the pace in a 25-minute cameo on his return from a career-threatening Achilles injury against his former club. But the 33-year-old still came close to claiming a dramatic winner shortly after his introduction, when his close range shot was only prevented from finding the net by defender David Wheater's desperate late block.
Viduka also forced a low near post save from Ross Turnbull in injury time. and Newcastle have now lost just two of their 13 Premier League trips to Teesside, but this was a result that left them still searching for their first away win of the season. But a share of the spoils was good enough for them to leapfrog their bitter rivals Sunderland near the foot of the table, although they could find themselves back in the relegation zone if Blackburn Rovers win at Portsmouth on Sunday.
Martins came closest to breaking the deadlock in an even first-half, when the Newcastle striker struck the bar shortly before the interval. Danny Guthrie saw his initial shot blocked after the midfielder's burst into the Middlesbrough area, and as the ball broke loose, Martins turned to fire a shot on the turn from 15 yards, which clipped the woodwork and flew to safety.
Afonso Alves continued his woeful run in front of goal as the out of touch Middlesbrough striker headed over from 12 yards when he would have been advised to leave the cross for the better placed Jeremie Aliadiere. The hosts were almost made to pay for Alves' wastefulness, as Nicky Butt curled a 25-yard free-kick inches over and Guthrie saw a low shot just fly just wide either side of the interval.
With only one home Premier League victory since August, Boro were much more of an attacking threat after the break as they took the game to their visitors. Alves showed glimpses of his talent with a powerful run as the Brazilian cut in from the left to fire a shot narrowly over from the edge of the area. Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given was forced to produce a fine save low to his left to deny defender Justin Hoyte from Aliadiere's cross to ensure honours and local pride remained even at least until the return fixture at St James' Park in May.