Football: Clark looks a precocious commodity

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The Independent Online
Derby County. . . .1

Newcastle United. .2

THE new law likely to be breached most, judging by this uplifting First Division fixture, is the one which dictates that the manager and his minions must remain seated during a match.

The edict applies only to the Football League (ironic considering that the main 'offenders', Messrs Dalglish, Coppell and Souness, work in the Premier League), and requires the restraint of a saint. The former Saint, Kevin Keegan, just about managed it, even amid the euphoria of a second Newcastle goal by the outstanding Lee Clark, as did Derby's Arthur Cox in rather more trying circumstances.

Not nearly so trying as those Newcastle had endured at the Baseball Ground last Easter, when they lost 4-1, had three sent off and Terry McDermott, Keegan's assistant, was ordered to leave the dug-out in which he is now being told to stay. Newcastle, like team-of-the-moment Coventry, escaped relegation only on the season's final day.

Keegan has since revamped the young, gifted but naive team he inherited from Ossie Ardiles, and with the seven-figure funding his predecessor was denied has added vital power (Brian Kilcline) and poise (Kevin Sheedy). At times they made a young, gifted Derby side seem, well, naive.

Cox, Keegan's old mentor, has lavished pounds 6.5m in the transfer market this year, so a second successive defeat was particularly galling. Although Derby fielded four pounds 1m-plus signings, three of them aged 21, they were made to look like also-Rams by Clark, 19, a home-grown midfielder from Wallsend who received his chance under Ardiles.

Rested by the new regime last spring, Clark went and knocked on the manager's door. 'Lee told me 'I deserve to be in the side - I'm as good as anyone in the club',' Keegan said. 'We were fighting relegation so I went for experience, but what he said has proved true. He's been a revelation.'

Clark will inevitably be lumbered with that double-edged epithet, 'the new Paul Gascoigne'. The accent, hairstyle and adolescent's complexion invite it. While not quite ready to record with Lindisfarne or cry for his country, he does possess a similar, precocious swagger and dribbling skill; the kind of flair that puts bums on seats, and not the managerial posteriors the rule-makers envisaged.

Newcastle's Gavin Peacock had just headed in one of the plethora of chances when Clark swept in from the right and, after jinking past two attempted tackles, netted with a left-footed shot. A keeper of Steve Sutton's experience should have stopped it, but Clark's willingness to go all the way may have disconcerted him.

Derby, for whom Mark Pembridge nodded their first goal in 174 minutes' action, will play worse and score six. Keegan called them 'a terrific side', who would be 'up there' with Newcastle 'when they start to gel'. Cox must first buy someone with authority - his elusive Robson or Strachan figure - although Clark showed why youthful promise so often makes him stand to attention. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Goals: Peacock (52) 0-1; Clark (55) 0-2; Pembridge (84) 1-2.

Derby County: Sutton; Kavanagh, Forsyth, Pembridge, Coleman, Wassall, Johnson, Kitson, Gabbiadini (McMinn, 63), Williams, Simpson. Substitute not used: Comyn.

Newcastle United: Wright; Venison, Beresford, Howey, Kilcline, Scott, Carr, Peacock, Kelly, Clark, Sheedy. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Ranson.

Referee: V G Callow (Solihull).

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