Ferdinand dons triple crown

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Newcastle United 6

Howey 31, Ferdinand 35, 41, 63, Clark 59,

Albert 84

Wimbledon 1

Gayle 60

Attendance:35, 434

IN TYNESIDE'S theatre of dreams, Newcastle yesterday played Wimbledon off the stage. Their spellbinding act starred a hat-trick from leading man Les Ferdinand and all the Dons could offer in reply was a bizarre cameo performance from Vinnie Jones - in goal.

Wimbledon came to St James's Park to obstruct rather than construct. They lined up with three centre-backs and two deep full-backs, three of whom converged on David Ginola whenever he received the ball. The dazzling Frenchman would outwit the first only to be checked by the second.

In contrast to the Dons' directness, Newcastle play football as if it were snooker: precise angles and perfect weights are the hallmarks of their passing. They were bound to pot sooner or later, although for the first half hour they preferred to admire their pretty patterns rather than threaten Paul Heald's goal.

All that changed in the 29th minute when Ferdinand - ironically from Shaka Hislop's huge goal-kick - nodded on to Peter Beardsley who pulled his shot just wide. Then Robert Lee shaved a post and Scott Fitzgerald went close with what looked like an attempted own goal. The inevitable happened in the 32nd minute when Steve Howey headed home from Wimbledon old boy Warren Barton's cross.

In the 36th minute Ginola finally eluded the clumsy challenges, and his perfect cross made a classic centre-forward's goal for Ferdinand - his seventh in successive games. His eighth followed six minutes later when he threw himself at Keith Gillespie's near-post cross and he was surprised as anyone when the ball ballooned off his back and over the hapless Heald.

The keeper's torment continued after half-time as Ginola immediately fired in a 30-yard drive that was too hot for him to hold. Referee Graham Poll put the poor fellow out of his misery in the 55th minute. Heald felled Ferdinand in the corner and promptly received his second yellow card.

Cue Vinnie Jones. As he pulled on the green jersey, he comically dropped his gloves, but then his hands are for punching not holding, as he showed by fisting away in quick succession a free-kick, a header and a 35-yard drive from Ginola. Just for good measure he booted Gillespie's follow- up on to the post. "I'm glad he's finally found a position for himself," said Kevin Keegan after the game.

But the courageous Jones could only stand and watch as Lee Clark's 59th minute left-foot shot powered into his top corner from just outside the area. And four minutes later he could only help Ferdinand complete his hat-trick by pushing his header over the line. "Les spent all last week answering questions why he wasn't in the England team and has spent the last two Saturdays showing why he should be," said Keegan.

After Marcus Gayle's almost unnoticed consolation, the Newcastle manager changed his cast with a triple substitution. Enter Philippe Albert. The Belgian has not played in the Premiership since Boxing Day, but needed just six minutes to curl the ball superbly around Jones for the best goal of the whole extraordinary drama.