Football: Cole's solid case for national service

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

THE MESSAGE to Graham Taylor from 5,000 Geordies at Villa Park and the Premiership scoring charts is the same - Andy Cole must be included today in England's squad for the Netherlands. Kevin Keegan begs to differ.

As Keegan had just seen his pounds 1.75m snip finish off Villa with his 11th goal in as many matches - and 23rd in 22 starts for Newcastle - he might have been expected to talk up a Rotterdam role for Cole. He is, after all, a proven marksman at Under-21 level, and there is concern over the fitness of Les Ferdinand.

While the Newcastle manager is convinced Cole will make the national side this season, he is equally certain that a crucial World Cup qualifier is not the fixture in which to blood a 21-year-old who was playing for Bristol City until March. 'No way will Graham pick him,' Keegan said. 'There'd be too much pressure on the lad if he did.'

Cole has made the step up from First Division so well - 'simply' by continuing to get into an uncommonly high number of scoring positions - that another promotion is unlikely to daunt him. His pace made Paul McGrath look slothful, never mind mortal, and as Peter Beardsley could testify, his single-mindedness near goal borders on greed.

It is said that this shy, snappy dresser from Nottingham has done wonders for racial tolerance on Tyneside (where 'Net King Cole' and the dubious 'Wor Blackie' are among his nicknames). He did nothing for internal relations at Villa. 'A shambles, an absolute joke, a disgrace,' Ron Atkinson seethed.

He declined to make Villa's European exertions an excuse, and the problem did seem to be as much a lack of balance as battle-fatigue. Guy Whittingham, the penalty-box predator, was used wide. Meanwhile, Dean Saunders cried out for a winger's service and midfield was frequently understaffed.

Yet for all the gnashing of managerial molars, this was only Villa's second defeat. If equilibrium is restored, last season's runners-up will remain a force. If it is not, the 'Ole]' that greeted every Newcastle touch once Cole added to Malcolm Allen's penalty might foreshadow failure against the Spaniards of La Coruna.

Keegan, typically, was already looking forward to competing on the Continent. A top-six finish is the target, and by his reckoning they ought to be second now. Consolidation ('a terrible word') was an ambition unworthy of the Magpie hordes.

With eight unbeaten matches behind them and confidence almost tangible among the likes of Hooper, Venison and Beardsley - are you watching, Liverpool? - it may prove to be more than bravado. And as long as Keegan can call on Cole, a Tyne and motion man in his own image, standing still will not be on the agenda.

Goals: Allen pen (46) 0-1; Cole (80) 0-2.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Spink; Cox, Teale, McGrath, Staunton; Richardson, Cowans (Houghton, 65), Townsend; Saunders, Atkinson, Whittingham (Daley, 55). Substitute not used: Bosnich (gk).

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

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).