Asprilla arrives in style

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Middlesbrough 1 Newcastle United 2

Last season, the loss of their No 11, Scott Sellars, through injury, arguably cost Newcastle their first championship since 1927. The latest incumbent is likely to put the record straight.

That Faustino Asprilla should be kitted up at all was something of a surprise, given that he had only docked in Teesside four hours before kick-off after leaving Milan at dawn. Yet armed with the work permit, which had arrived on Friday afternoon, and the certainty that comes with being nine points clear at the top of the Premiership, the manager, Kevin Keegan, had intended to play his Colombian import from the start.

"He said he'd taken a kick on his knee last Wednesday, so I thought it would be unfair to throw him straight in," Keegan admitted. "But we were 1-0 down with 20-odd minutes to go, looking a bit sluggish, and I saw him on the bench and thought: 'maybe he's the guy who can spark us off'. He did a fantastic job but by the end he was 'knackered-o'. I think that's the Spanish for it."

The Cruyff turn with which Asprilla wrong-footed Middlesbrough defender Steve Vickers, earning him the space to centre for Steve Watson's headed equaliser, was audacious enough, but paled alongside the drag-back which nutmegged Chris Morris.

And if he played no direct part in Les Ferdinand's winner, which somehow scuttled under goalkeeper Gary Walsh, the manner of United's second goal inside four minutes was a measure of the panic which the South American's appearance had induced.

That Middlesbrough had not already secured the points from the 90th Tyne- Tees derby was due to the finishing of Nicky Barmby, who had four chances to build on a 37th-minute lead after Newcastle defender John Beresford guided the ball past his own goalkeeper, Pavel Srnicek.

Juninho, above all, did not deserve to be on the losing side, but Middlesbrough are now on the brink of equalling a club record of eight successive League defeats.

While his neighbours battle against free-fall, Keegan is ready to wage war: with the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, for starters, and anyone who says he is buying the Premiership crown.

"This club can afford to spend pounds 7.5m on a player, and I'll fight anybody to the bitter end who says the likes of Asprilla don't improve our League. They are saying: 'Why don't you buy someone from the Third Division?' and I'm saying: 'Because they aren't good enough.' When I arrived at Newcastle, everyone said how great it was that the average age of the side was 21. And where were they heading? The old Third Division. That may be all right for English football in the eyes of Gordon Taylor, but not for the manager of Newcastle United."

Goal: Beresford og (37) 1-0; Watson (74) 1-1; Ferdinand (78) 1- 2.

Middlesbrough (5-3-1-1): Walsh; Cox, Pearson, Vickers, Whelan, Morris; Juninho (Hignett, 79), Stamp (Liddle, h-t), Pollock; Barmby; Wilkinson. Subsitute not used: Fjortoft.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie (Asprilla, 67), Lee, Clark, Watson; Ferdinand, Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Kitson, Elliott.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Man of the match: Juninho.

Attendance: 30,011.