Football: Cole collects hat-trick to humble Liverpool: Strikers display their talents as Newcastle's passing game destroys weakened visitors and West Bromwich are punished for errors

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. . .3

Liverpool. . . . . . 0

NEWCASTLE UNITED provided Kevin Keegan with the most satisfying day of his managerial career at St James' Park yesterday, executing a decisive, at times almost disdainful, victory over the club in whose colours he first became acquainted with the idolatry he now commands on Tyneside.

Liverpool, looking a poor imitation of the teams of Keegan's Anfield heyday, were dismantled in the first half-hour as Newcastle overran them on an extraordinary tide of vibrant, incisive attacking to which their opponents had no answer. All three goals were scored by the striker whose fame here threatens to rival the greatest of his predecessors in the No 9 shirt, the irrepressible Andy Cole.

The 22-year-old striker was at his predatory best and hit the target in the fifth, 16th and 30th minutes. The goals raised his tally to 21 in 17 matches this season, 15 of them in the Premiership. His record since moving to Newcastle from Bristol City stands at an astonishing 33 in 29 outings - including five hat-tricks. If he still pines for London, the reception afforded him at the final whistle can have left him in no doubt as to his spiritual home.

Liverpool introduced John Barnes as they set about limiting the damage in the second half and at least had the satisfaction of denying Newcastle the rout that been threatened earlier. Barnes, clearly eager to make a meaningful impression, saw plenty of the ball but, apart from one header by Neil Ruddock over Mike Hooper's crossbar, Liverpool's response rarely took them into areas that troubled the home side.

The football played by Newcastle, who fielded 11 Englishmen, is a complete team game. When they have the ball, the speed of their running opens up a galaxy of possibilities; when the ball is with their opponents, black-and-white shirts seem to mass behind it as rapidly as they flood forward.

Liverpool had their excuses. To the injured full-backs, Rob Jones and Julian Dicks, was added flu victim Mark Wright. But even at strength, Liverpool would have faced a stiff examination. As Graeme Souness said: 'This is not the place to come, with Newcastle in that sort of mood, with no defence.'

The three goals were remarkably similar, emphasising the Liverpool manager's point. Decisive early passes behind the back-four crafted all three openings, followed by crisp low crosses from the left flank that Cole buried with relish. Robbie Elliott's ball to Robert Lee set up the first, Peter Beardley's pass to Scott Sellars the second, Lee and Sellars combining to create the third. Each time neither Torben Piechnik, who was substituted at half-time, nor Ruddock could do a thing to prevent a score.

Keegan, hoarse from a cold and from his touchline urgings, described the first half as 'the best 45 minutes we have played in my time here. We were 6-0 up at half-time in one Division One game last year but this was the Premiership.'

Amid the rush to declare English football terminally sick, it was indeed something to lift the spirits. 'I happen to think a renaissance in quality football is under way, as Manchester United has shown, and maybe ourselves too,' Keegan said. 'Sadly, it has come too late for Graham Taylor to feel the benefit.'

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hooper; Watson, Venison, Scott, Elliott; Lee, Clark, Bracewell, Sellars; Beardsley, Cole. Substitutes not used: Mathie, Allen, Srnicek (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; Nicol, Piechnik (Barnes, h/t), Ruddock, Harkness; Redknapp, Clough, Stewart, Matteo; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Walters, James (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Photograph, page 35

Football, pages 34 and 35

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