Beardsley banishes hangover

Newcastle United 2 Kitson 9, Beardsley 37 Bolton Wanderers 1 Bergsson 19 Attendance: 36,543
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The Independent Online
PETER BEARDSLEY must have felt like hitting the bar on his 35th birthday last Thursday. A confirmed teetotaller, the veteran striker could have been excused a consoling pint or two, having seen Newcastle crash out of the FA Cup on Wednesday night after his penalty crashed against Kevin Hitchcock's crossbar.

The tonic came in the 37th minute at St James's Park yesterday. Newcastle, the Premiership leaders, were stuttering against the League's bottom club until their captain struck his 100th League goal for the club.

It was no classic, just a flashing half-volley from the edge of the six- yard box, but it must have tasted all the sweeter for having hit the net in front of the Sir John Hall stand, the goalmouth where Beardsley missed in the penalty shoot-out against Chelsea.

The England forward's first goal for Newcastle dates back to October 1983 and a 2-0 victory at Cardiff. The other scorer at Ninian Park that day was Kevin Keegan, who may consider yesterday's winner from his former striking partner as valuable as the money he is poised to invest in the transfer market.

Newcastle are now 12 points clear of Manchester United and Liverpool but their 12th victory in 12 home league games this season was not convincing.

With Les Ferdinand on the injured list, they attacked without the sharp focal point that their pounds 6m man normally provides. And they looked vulnerable from first to last whistle when Bolton advanced purposefully up the field.

Paul Kitson's first goal since October, a header from a Beardsley cross, gave Newcastle a ninth-minute lead to build on but Richard Sneekes fired a succession of warning shots across Newcastle's defensive bows before Bolton drew level after 19 minutes. Scott Sellars, who left Newcastle in November, floated a left-wing free-kick to the near post and the unmarked Gudni Bergsson headed home.

Bolton did not justify the gallows humour shown by their supporters, who responded to chants by the home fans of "We are top of the league" with a defiant chorus of "We are bottom of the league". Their only shaky spell was the 10-minute period before half-time when Beardsley's goal might have been followed by others for Philippe Albert and Steve Watson had Keith Branagan not been in such fine form.

As it was, Newcastle were left hanging on nervously. Scott Green rattled Pavel Srnicek's bar in the 79th minute and Newcastle's Czech keeper was obliged to produce fine saves to deny Sellars and Nathan Blake.

Keegan, in fact, was in better defensive form than his players. He gave nothing away when asked to confirm reports that he had signed Parma's Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla. "Not that I know of," he said. "I'm not going to talk about players we're going to sign. I'll have to invoke the Fifth Amendment. No comment." A wise man. When it comes to a determination to win the title backed by the cash to achieve it, Newcastle are guilty as hell.