Football: Bold Newcastle reign in rain

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Sunderland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

LESS than 24 hours after being dislodged by Portsmouth, Newcastle United regained pole position in the First Division following this narrow, but deserved, win, over their local rivals, Sunderland, in appalling conditions at St James' Park yesterday.

On a waterlogged pitch, which was only just playable, Newcastle still managed to demonstrate their superiority. This win puts them two points clear of Portsmouth and five ahead of West Ham, with a game in hand on both.

With their much better goalscoring record Newcastle are in effect only one point away from promotion. Sunderland, on the other hand, are 40 points adrift of their neighbours with relegation still a possibility.

However, their player-manager, Terry Butcher, is confident the Wearsiders will stay up. 'It's still in our hands to get ourselves out of trouble. I'm still very positive. You could see the spirit is there. We won't let our supporters down.'

The Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan, said: 'The difference between the sides was still evident despite the conditions. Keith Hackett (the referee) took a gamble in letting the game start. Luckily the rain stopped - if it had carried on the game wouldn't have finished. There wasn't an abundance of chances, but the only ones that there were, came from us. Nobody deserves to be champions more than we do, the way the players have performed this season. I thought we worked terrifically well as a unit and Paul Bracewell was outstanding. He pulled the strings in the middle. At the end of the day, I was proud of my lads.'

The only goal came after 10 minutes, a cleverly flighted free-kick over the wall from Scott Sellars, which found the net off the inside of Tony Norman's left-hand post. Butcher had been penalised for climbing on the back of Kevin Scott.

Butcher, and Sunderland's approach to the game, had been evident from the opening minute when the big No 5 booted the ball out of the ground in Newcastle's first attack. Sunderland's problems began before the kick-off when Gary Owers, their industrious midfielder, had to be withdrawn because of injury. His replacement, John Colquhoun, is a winger.

With both flanks heavy in water, or lakes, as Keegan described them afterwards, it was not an afternoon for wingers. That said, Newcastle played some neat football, making the running for nearly the whole game.

Sunderland threatened the United goal only once, after 35 minutes, when Mick Harford's header was flicked over by Pavel Srnicek.

In the second half Robert Lee twice came close to increasing United's lead and Steve Howey should have scored with a header from six yards.

However, even a one-goal win was enough to gladden the hearts of the vast majority of the 30,364 crowd.

Newcastle United: Srnicek; Venison, Beresford, Bracewell, Scott, Howey, Lee, Cole, Kelly, Clark, Sellars. Substitutes not used: Kilcline, Robinson.

Sunderland: Norman; Kay (Martin Gray, 58), Michael Gray, Colquhoun (Davenport, 78), Butcher, Ball, Cunnington, Goodman, Harford, Atkinson, Armstrong.

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).

(Photograph omitted)

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