Beardsley the central force

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 2

Beardsley 77, 81


Holloway 53

Attendance: 36,583

IF Peter Beardsley were not already a Newcastle legend, he would probably be granted that status purely on the strength of the life-saving operation he performed on his team against yesterday. With two goals within the last 13 minutes of a match during which the tension was at times almost unbearable, Beardsley brought Newcastle the victory that keeps alive their hopes of winning the Premiership.

Newcastle's anguish over what happened at Anfield on Wednesday, when they lost 4-3 to Liverpool, was turning to despair until Beardsley struck. Queen's Park Rangers, leading by a goal scored early in the second half, looked destined to become only the second visitors to win at St James' Park this season, and in circumstances not dissimilar to those which had accompanied Manchester United's victory at the beginning of last month.

The visitors, keeping their composure, riding their luck, never gave up on the idea of inflicting damage of their own and, in Ray Wilkins, their 39-year-old player-manager, had a performer of matchless aplomb who deserved better than to see his team go down to a defeat which leaves them once more staring into the First Division.

Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, had said it was about time his team played badly and won. The kind of fireworks with which they had illuminated the Liverpool night sky last week were only sporadically on view on this occasion, as the anxiety in the crowd spread to the pitch and players struggled to establish the momentum that has been at the heart of Newcastle's successes this season.

The mood before kick-off was much more subdued than usual, and the ferocity with which Newcastle generally launch into the opposition was lacking. For all the brilliance of Faustino Asprilla, there was uncertainty in much of what they did. First touches were failing them. So too was their crossing. QPR were holding their own and, in Trevor Sinclair, they had a man whose dashes up the right had a distinctly undermining effect.

A 17th-minute cross from Sinclair should have led to an opening goal, but Kevin Gallen misdirected his header. Shots from Daniele Dichio and Wilkins soon followed, and it took a swaying run by David Ginola, ending with a shot just wide, to wrest back the initiative for Newcastle. But QPR stayed calm and watchful, and time and again Newcastle attacks foundered on the outstretched boot of the last defender. Jurgen Sommer's first bona- fide save did not come until the 42nd minute, when he bravely blocked a fierce shot by Les Ferdinand.

Newcastle's feeling that they were being conspired against must have been reinforced by the events that surrounded the QPR goal. In the 53rd minute, Newcastle won a free-kick on the edge of the area. A defensive wall formed well within 10 yards and Ginola, with all the moral indignation he could muster, measured out the distance for the benefit of the referee. Six steps. That didn't go down too well and Ginola received a yellow card. But much worse was to follow: after Sommer had dealt comfortably with Asprilla's kick, QPR broke upfield and Ian Holloway lashed a shot into the roof of Shaka Hislop's net.

The introduction of Keith Gillespie for Robert Lee in the 68th minute was what the crowd had long been craving, but as Ferdinand and Asprilla continued to be thwarted, it was hard to see how Newcastle might rescue themselves. But when, in the 78th minute, Ferdinand harried Andrew Impey and knocked the ball into the six-yard box, Beardsley pounced. His second, four minutes later, was a classic: a jink past two men on the left and a cross-shot that powered its way into the top right-hand corner.

Keegan said: "It was everything Wednesday wasn't. A frustrating game, but to be fair QPR played very well. They not only contained us, but they didn't show us too much respect. It was a great performance for nothing. But the last 20 minutes may just have stopped the run of feeling sorry for ourselves. There's a book being written about this championship and most of it has already gone to the proof readers. But who's to say the final chapter is not going to end our way?" There is still time for plenty more twists in the plot.