Derby County 1 Newcastle United 0
If Newcastle's chance of re- entering the championship race had not expired before yesterday, only the most optimistic of spokesmen for their cause would quarrel with that estimation now. With this defeat, Kenny Dalglish's side are 20 points adrift of Manchester United and may even find a Uefa Cup place a tall target if their ineffectiveness in front of goal is allowed to persist much longer.
Yesterday, Dalglish relied on Ian Rush and Jon Dahl Tomasson to supply a cutting edge, leaving John Barnes, Faustino Asprilla and Temur Ketsbaia on the substitutes' bench, an indication, perhaps, that he is already looking towards the FA Cup as the most realistic route towards a successful season.
In the event, the veteran and the novice represented a toothless combination, troubling Derby's defence not once between them. They were replaced after an hour, but then the dismissal of David Batty ruined Dalglish's plans.
For their part, Derby were well below par. The goalscorer Stefano Eranio, whose penalty after two minutes proved the decisive moment, was replaced at half-time after struggling to cope against Keith Gillespie's pace, while Francesco Baiano was also taken off.
The home side's most fluent move, in fact, was the one that led them to take an early lead, launched by a one-two between Baiano and Eranio and nicely extended by Paulo Wanchope and Dean Sturridge before Des Hamilton's late challenge sent Sturridge sprawling. Eranio slotted the spot kick wide of Shaka Hislop's left hand.
Newcastle might have gone further behind within the opening 15 minutes as the home side sought to underscore their early supremacy. Eranio was foiled - just - by Hislop's reactions after an exquisite chip from Wanchope sent the Italian clear; then Sturridge, alert to the possibilities when Alessandro Pistone's attempted clearance went backwards, missed narrowly with a dipping volley.
Having survived this passage without further loss, however, Newcastle steadily took control and Dalglish resisted the temptation to effect an immediate change of plan. Barnes and Asprilla, rested ahead of tomorrow's encounter with Liverpool, remained on the bench.
None the less, for all their possession, Newcastle could not threaten the home goal more than occasionally. They might have considered themselves unlucky when John Beresford's strike was deflected on to the bar, but this was a rare moment of real anxiety for Derby in the opening half.
Derby, meanwhile, lacked much of their regular fluency, giving the ball away time and again as passes failed to find their target, with Wanchope and Baiano the most frequent offenders.
Yet Newcastle failed to take advantage. Indeed, more than once Derby seemed poised to extend their lead. They might have done before half-time when Darryl Powell, released by Baiano, chose to shoot rather than give Wanchope the ball in space; they should have done 10 minutes after the break when Sturridge, shaking off Stuart Pearce, clipped the post.
Moments after that let-off, Hislop, again preferred to Shay Given, justified his place with a splendid save after Wanchope's cross from the right had reached Lee Carsley at the far post.
By now, Newcastle's supporters were pining for Asprilla and Dalglish soon answered their calls, taking off both Rush and Tomasson, giving Asprilla and Ketsbaia 30 minutes in which to turn things around.
When Asprilla sent Hamilton clear and required Mart Poom to race swiftly from his line, it seemed there might be a dividend for Newcastle, but the dismissal of Batty after a second yellow card three minutes later came as a critical blow.
Derby County (3-5-1-2): Poom; Yates, Stimac, Rowett; Eranio (Laursen, h-t), Carsley, D Powell, C Powell; Baiano (Willems, 67); Sturridge (Burton, 85), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Kozluk, Hoult (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Howey (Barnes, 85), Pearce, Pistone; Hamilton, Batty, Beresford, Gillespie; Tomasson (Ketsbaia, 60), Rush (Asprilla, 60). Substitutes not used: Hughes, Given (gk).
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).Reuse content