NEWCASTLE United's disastrous finale to the season reached a new low last night as Dean Ashton's injury-time goal gave relegation favourites Norwich City victory.

The Canaries had taken the lead through Youssef Safri's superb 35-yard strike on 68 minutes but United seemed certain to have rescued a point when substitute Patrick Kluivert pounced a minute before the end to level.

But manager Graeme Souness could only watch in despair as Ashton crept in between Stephen Carr and Jean Alain Boumsong to head past Shay Given from Thomas Helveg's cross.

It was a typical Newcastle performance - they thought they had salvaged something, only to promptly give it away.

Newcastle gave a good account of themselves in the first-half and should have led by at least two goals at the break. An horrendous Alan Shearer miss from four yards and a wonder save from Robert Green, from Lauren Robert, ensured the scores remained level at the break.

Newcastle's preparations for the game were hardly helped when several more players went down with injury and Souness could name only four reserves for the bench. The impressive Charles N'Zogbia came in for Amdy Faye and Robbie Elliott replaced Stephen Taylor for his first start since the 2-2 draw with Blackburn on Boxing Day.

Norwich, despite being bottom, have had a mini-revival of late. A 3-3 draw with fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Saturday followed a convincing 2-0 home victory over Newcastle's FA Cup semi-final conquerors Manchester United.

After some early Norwich pressure Shearer nearly opened the deadlock in the seventh minute when he ghosted on to Boumsong's throw and flashed a shot across Green's goal.

United were under fire for most of the first 20 minutes and were having to rely on counter attacks. It was from one of these raids a minute later that Shearer produced arguably the worst miss of his career. The Canaries' keeper spilled Robert's free-kick at the feet of United's captain four yards out but with the goal at his mercy he shot wide.

Ashton, Leon McKenzie, David Bentley, and Darren Huckerby all threatened for the home side and Shearer, Shola Ameobi, N'Zogbia and James Milner did so for the visitors. And it was the latter who had a reasonable shout for a penalty ten minutes before the break. The former Leeds United man bamboozled full back Adam Drury, who did not take too kindly to the roasting and sent him tumbling near the touchline. The referee gave a goalkick.

A superb cross from Stephen Carr a minute later picked out Robert at the far post and Green brilliantly pushed out the Frenchman's first-time volley.

Given then got into the act in first-half stoppage time when he reacted brilliantly to a point blank header from McKenzie.

Damien Francis missed a gilt-edged chance to put Norwich ahead eight minutes after the break. Given and Ashton collided going for Bentley's long free-kick but Francis somehow managed to lift the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

Francis missed another opportunity five minutes later when he got across Boumsong only to head weakly over.

Just as it seemed no one was going to break the deadlock Saffri produced his screamer which ricocheted off the underside of the bar and into Given's net.

Norwich had enjoyed the greater possession but failed to capitalise on it and when Kluivert, on for Ameobi, managed to stab home following a penalty-box scramble, they thought it had all slipped away from them.

Ashton thought otherwise, however, when he headed past a despairing Given three minutes into stoppage time.

Result: Norwich City 2 Newcastle 1.

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