Football: Bickering Magpies have the luck

Newcastle United 3 Bradford City 0
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The Independent Online
"BEEN A long time since I rock 'n' rolled," Robert Plant blared over St James' Park's public address system at 2.55pm on Saturday. It's been just as long, he might have sung, since the cabinet upstairs had a domestic trophy of note to display.

Not since 1955, in fact, the year Bill Haley and his Comets were rocking around the clock, have Newcastle United won one of English football's major prizes. And the clock is likely to be ticking for some time yet before the glint of silverware is glimpsed on the northern bank of the Tyne.

Though they managed to stay on the seasonal trophy trail at St James' on Saturday, Newcastle looked far from cup-winning material. Outclassed for the best part of an hour, they were fortunate that Bradford lacked the goalscoring touch to exploit their superiority.

Paul Jewell's polished side lacked luck, too, Jamie Lawrence being denied a clear penalty when brought down by Shay Given in the 27th minute, the keeper's right-hand post stopping a Stuart McCall header in first-half injury time and the otherwise impressive Robbie Blake missing the sitter of the match a minute before Alan Shearer left Bradford chasing a two- goal deficit.

Newcastle, until they were in that fortuitous comfort zone seven minutes into the second-half, looked precisely what they are: a team in limbo. It was significant, as well as ironic, that all three of their goals came from players uncertain of their place in Ruud Gullit's scheme of things at St James' Park.

Dietmar Hamann, whose tap-in gave Newcastle the lead in the 32nd minute, has complained in the German press of being ignored both on the pitch and off it by a boss, he insists, who deems him surplus to requirements. And reports of Shearer being at odds with the dreadlocked Dutchman were hardly dismissed by the glaringly cool manner in which the pounds 15m man walked past his manager after his pre-match warm-up. There was not a flicker of recognition between the two.

Even Temur Ketsbaia, who set up the first two goals and scored the third himself with four minutes remaining, was in axe-grinding mood on Saturday. "Everybody makes mistakes," he said, ""but when I make one I'm out of the team for weeks."

The Georgian needs to play in every game for the rest of the season to qualify for another work permit and there are no permanent fixtures in Gullit's team. The Newcastle manager continues to shuffle his unsettled pack from week to week and further changes are imminent, with bids for Taribo West and Ibrahim Ba on Milanese tables.

Gullit clearly wants to shuffle out a lot of his inherited playing stock before he settles on a team of his own design - and the uncertainty within his squad shows. It is just as well, as he plays his game of patience, that his side avoided defeat on Saturday. The Toon Army are pining with increasing longing for the dashing days of old at St James' Park and a loss to lower league opposition would have tried their patience to the limit as they prepare to welcome back Kevin Keegan for Peter Beardsley's testimonial match on Wednesday.

Goals: Hamann (32) 1-0; Shearer (52) 2-0; Ketsbaia (86) 3-0.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Griffin, Dabizas, Charvet, Domi; Solano (Glass, h-t), Hamman, Speed, Brady; Ketsbaia, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Barton, Andersson, Harper (gk).

Bradford City (4-4-2): Walsh; Wright (Rankin, 65), Moore, Westwood, Jacobs; Lawrence, McCall, Whalley, Beagrie; Blake, Mills. Substitutes not used: Dreyer, Ramage, O'Brien, Prudhoe (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Booking: Bradford: Moore.

Man of the match: Whalley.

Attendance: 36,698.