Football: Albert off as Rush makes point

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. . . .1

Lee 50

Liverpool . . . . . . .1

Rush 70

Attendance: 34,435

NEWCASTLE UNITED'S perfect start to the season came to an end yesterday, and not just in the sense that they dropped their first points in being held to a draw by Liverpool. Eight minutes from the end of a classic encounter, the sending-off of Phillipe Albert, their Belgian World Cup defender, introduced an unsavoury note at the club where everything until now had tasted sweet.

That included the announcement before the match that Paul Kitson, the Derby County striker whose pounds 2.5m move to the club appeared to have collapsed three days ago, would after all be joining them. Having initially rejected the personal terms offered him, he reconsidered, contacted Kevin Keegan on Friday, and the Newcastle manager was big enough to give him another chance.

Albert, having been booked in the first half, went for a second bookable offence, a late tackle on a Liverpool defender, according to the World Cup referee, Philip Don. Perhaps Don was right, but it was a shame for so marvellous a match to be disfigured in any way, especially when both teams were far too busy being brilliant to indulge in any real nastiness.

For Newcastle, it was their toughest test so far, against a Liverpool team Keegan rightly described as rejuvenated. For Roy Evans, whose low-profile management is beginning to look highly effective, it was very nearly a tactical triumph. On paper, his selection looked bent on defence, with Phil Babb starting his first match in a side that also included Neil Ruddock and John Scales. But the way they played was not like that at all.

The main beneficiaries of the Liverpool full-backs' freedom to move up were John Barnes and Steve McManaman, nominally wingers but finding rich pastures all over the field. McManaman in particular had an outstanding game, his bony frame repeatedly carrying him past despairing Newcastle tackles, his well-timed runs taking him deep enough into the danger zone for him to have had a hat-trick or more.

Newcastle, although numerically superior in midfield, were so stretched by the frequency and variety of the Liverpool attacks that their own creativity was stifled. The loss after 24 minutes of Barry Venison with hamstring trouble did not help, and their main hope of a breakthrough lay, not for the first time, with the probing passes of Peter Beardsley. But Andy Cole was tending to get sucked into the Babb-Scales-Ruddock vortex, and the speed with which Liverpool broke with the ball meant sustained Newcastle pressure was not really possible.

None the less, six minutes into the second half Robert Lee put Newcastle ahead with a shot that not even a hurricane could have blown off course. It was an example of where Liverpool remain vulnerable in defence, Ruel Fox sliding the ball through on the right and Lee lashing the ball into the roof of the net for his sixth League goal of the season.

The pace, if anything, got even faster. Chances came and went at both ends as the home-crowd's passion for the game was rewarded by a scintillating display of the game's finest arts. Managers are fond of describing matches as 'good advertisements for the game', and that's exactly what Keegan said yesterday. But he was absolutely right, and the feeling that this is the most exhilarating start to a season for many years was reinforced yet again.

Given that, it was out of keeping that when Liverpool equalised with 20 minutes to go, it was the result of an error by Pavel Srnicek. When Ian Rush picked the ball up some 25 yards out, the danger was slight. His cleanly struck shot had the advantage of bouncing in front of Srnicek, but the Newcastle goalkeeper will still blame himself for allowing it to elude him. Lucky for Liverpool, perhaps, but thoroughly deserved as well.

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