Shearer landmark on way to summit

Newcastle's talisman scores 200th League goal to put Robson's men top as newcomers experience mixed fortunes
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The Independent Online

For the sea of smiling, singing Blaydon faces, it was just like old times at Highfield Road last night. Victory over Coventry swept Newcastle to the Premiership summit for the first time since November 1996, when Kevin Keegan was still their manager, with Alan Shearer collecting his 200th top-flight goal to set Bobby Robson's team on their way.

For the sea of smiling, singing Blaydon faces, it was just like old times at Highfield Road last night. Victory over Coventry swept Newcastle to the Premiership summit for the first time since November 1996, when Kevin Keegan was still their manager, with Alan Shearer collecting his 200th top-flight goal to set Bobby Robson's team on their way.

Cometh the half-hour, cometh the man, Shearer opening his account for the season from the penalty spot. The goal, which provoked a chorus of "You're still England's No 1" from the visiting hordes, will doubtless be dedicated to his third child and first son, Will, who was born last Friday. Keegan's £15m man has achieved his feat in only 275 games.

Coventry, themselves striving for the leadership for the first time since they won the opening three games of the inaugural Premier League campaign eight years ago, began promisingly but faded away. The disappointment of their manager, Gordon Strachan, was compounded when Kevin Gallacher - once the Sky Blues' record buy - was allowed to seal Newcastle's success with the softest of goals in the second half.

If the stakes were unexpectedly high, the tempo was gratifyingly fast during a remarkably open first half. Indeed, it could have been 1-1 with less than three minutes played.

In Coventry's first foray, Craig Bellamy pursued a lofted clearance from Paul Williams as Aaron Hughes hesitated. The £6.5m newcomer from Norwich hooked the ball over Shay Given only to see it come back off the bar.

Newcastle immediately sent Stephen Glass scuttling along the left, his low cross flashing across the six-yard area with no one able to supply a touch. So it continued: one moment a header by Newcastle's Laurent Charvet was tipped over by Magnus Hedman, the next Bellamy was nodding narrowly wide at the opposite end.

An exquisitely timed volley from 25 yards by Youssef Chippo drew a diving save of equal merit from Given. Yet, when the tit-for-tat exchanges produced a breakthrough, it went to Newcastle 15 minutes before the break.

Gary Speed's long pass was headed back by Shearer to Charvet, who fell heavily under challenge by Paul Williams. The former England captain remained cool while Coventry disputed the decision before powering his landmark goal past Hedman.

Charvet, who was in Newcastle's starting line-up for the first time since November, was heartily booed by the home crowd for his part in the incident. Williams pointed an accusing finger at the Frenchman as the players left the pitch at half-time, which in turn led to Shearer and the Coventry captain appearing to jostle each other.

The pulsating opening gave way to an increasingly fractious contest. Newcastle, who had been forced to withdraw Didier Domi with a head injury midway through the first half, left Glass in the dressing room after the interval, possibly to prevent his incurring a further caution to add to his booking for succession of early fouls.

Newcastle, with Speed and Rob Lee pulling the strings, looked the more composed and dangerous unit. When they doubled their advantage, however, the goal contained a strong element of farce.

Moments earlier, Marcus Hall had headed Gallacher's centre against Williams, both Coventry men being relieved to see the ball loop over their own goal.

Hall, perhaps unnerved, promptly delayed his next clearance before drilling it against Kieron Dyer. The ball ricocheted into the path of Gallacher, who looked almost embarrassed as he accepted the gift from eight yards out.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Edworthy, Shaw, Williams, Hall; Telfer, Palmer, Eustace (Hadji, 61), Chippo; Bellamy (Aloisi, 70), Roussel. Substitutes not used: Breen, Normann, Kirkland (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Charvet, Hughes, Goma, Domi (Griffin, 21); Dyer, Lee, Speed, Glass (Gallacher, h-t); Cordone (Kerr, 89), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Gavilan, Harper (gk).

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood).

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