Football: Cole keeps show going

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Watson 35, Cole 37 Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 Taylor 55 Attendance: 34,408 NEWCASTLE UNITED march on, but with a stutter in their step. The suspicions that were aroused against Athletic Bilbao in midweek were not wholly removed yesterday when Sheffield Wednesday, a little unlucky to find themselves two goals down at half-time, forced themselves back into the game, but not quite far enough.

But there is no arguing with the statistics. After 11 games, or a little more than a quarter of the way into the season, Newcastle have nine wins and two draws. And if their form in recent matches has dropped below the dazzling level they achieved at the start of the season, they have shown a would- be champions' knack of still picking up the points.

In an eventful match, both teams lost forwards to injury in the opening half-hour - Newcastle's Paul Kitson going off with concussion after taking a clearance from the Wednesday goalkeeper full in the face, and David Hirst suffering a recurrence of the knee injury that has blighted so much of his career. But neither side seemed to suffer unduly, and the respective substitutes, Lee Clark and Chris Bart-Williams, were about the best players on the pitch.

Wednesday's problem was a tendency to back off when Newcastle ran at them.

This had nearly cost them a goal after only three minutes when Ruel Fox made a 50-yard run unchallenged down the right and found Kitson in space in the area. Perhaps the chance came too soon for the man making his full appearance at St James' Park. He hit his shot a little fat and Kevin Pressman stuck out a hand like a man doing semaphore.

Pressman was kept busy, notably when the guardsman figure of Philippe Albert stepped up after 35 minutes and drove a shot from 25 yards only to see it tipped away for a corner. But that gave Newcastle the chance to take the lead. Wednesday failed to clear the ball properly and when it fell to Steve Watson on the edge of the area, he struck a shot which was helped into the net by a deflection.

Two minutes later and Newcastle went further ahead with a goal of pure opportunism. A ball down the left drew Pressman way out of his area, and although he half- dispossessed Scott Sellars, the Newcastle man recovered and had the presence of mind to hoist an immediate cross. As Pressman charged vainly back, Andy Cole stole in to side-foot a volley into the empty net. As Trevor Francis, the Wednesday manager, said afterwards, 'If you do come out, you have to make sure it's yours.'

As was the case at the 3-0 stage of their match against Athletic Bilbao, the score slightly flattered Newcastle. Their opponents were seeing plenty of the ball, and with Bart-Williams forming a productive partnership with Ian Taylor, a Wednesday goal looked increasingly likely.

It arrived 10 minutes into the second half when Bart-Williams crossed from the left and Mark Bright went up for it. Contact was minimal, but Pavel Srnicek was sufficiently fazed to make a hash of gathering the ball, and Taylor slid it over the line.

With Beardsley filling in for Kitson up front and Clark playing forcefully just behind them, Newcastle still created chances - but so, too, did Wednesday, for whom none was better than the one Dan Petrescu squandered 10 minutes from the end. Clean through with Srnicek charging towards him, he opted for a lob - a pretty feeble one as it turned out - rather than going round the keeper. It was a decision Newcastle had cause to be grateful for.