Newcastle United 3 Derby County 1
Even before kick-off Derby had ensured that Pride Park, their new stadium, will be a proud place boasting Premiership football next season. Their job was done and their minds were somewhere warmer than chilly Newcastle.
"We were on a bit of a holiday," admitted their manager, Jim Smith. "We could have been a bit more determined not to get beaten."
It did not help that they went one up after just 34 seconds and should have been two up after six minutes. Dean Sturridge had coolly slipped the ball past Shaka Hislop for the goal, but the second occasion he found the Newcastle defence all at sea, the keeper beat his shot away. By the time the rebound had fallen to Robin van der Laan, Newcastle had enough bodies aboard to minimise the damage.
As the ball bounced out of play, Sturridge shrugged his shoulders and Van der Laan momentarily held his head in his hands - but Hislop did a Schmeichel, throwing his gloves around and berated his defenders for a lapse that might have proved costly to Newcastle's plans for foreign travel.
It did the trick. Newcastle immediately won four corners in five minutes - the last of which finally found the back of the net as Russell Hoult flapped at it.
Had Christian Dailly joined his colleagues on the bus to the beach and had Alan Shearer been his usual clinical self, Derby would have found themselves on a holiday from hell and a hiding to nothing. Shearer volleyed onto the crossbar when unmarked five yards out and, when John Beresford's cross skimmed the shaven head of Paul McGrath, he did his trademark turn only to lash the ball straight at Hoult. Dailly, meantime, denied Les Ferdinand with a crunching tackle and performed miracles to keep a Shearer cross from reaching the striker.
But Faustino Asprilla was on song, spinning his man-marker Paul Trollope round like a record. When the pragmatic Kenny Dalglish replaced the cavalier Kevin Keegan, many predicted that the enigmatic Colombian would be the first to leave. But Dalglish has partially solved the riddle, playing Asprilla just off Shearer and Ferdinand. Although not even the hard-working David Batty could cover all the midfield left behind. For all the notice his team-mates took, though, Aljosa Asanovic could have been building sand castles on the vast expanses on the left.
"I thought Asprilla looked super, very exciting," said Smith. "He's a little wayward in front of goal, but I thought Trollope did well against him and lessened the damage as much as possible."
Asprilla's waywardness meant that Newcastle had to rely on a flying Ferdinand header and a wickedly swerving Shearer shot to ease their way towards a tour beyond these shores next season.
"We must get as many points as we can and add them up at the end of the season to see what we reward we get," said Dalglish, not even contemplating a busman's holiday in Europe.
Goals: Sturridge (1) 0-1; Elliott (12) 1-1; Ferdinand (52) 2-1; Shearer (75) 3-1.
Newcastle United (4-3-1-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Watson, Beresford; Elliott, Batty, Lee; Asprilla (Gillespie, 85); Shearer, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Clark, Beardsley, Ginola, Srnicek (gk).
Derby County (5-1-2-2): Hoult; Rowett, C Powell (D Powell, h-t), Laursen, Dailly, McGrath; Trollope; Van Der Laan (Solis, 75), Asanovic; Ward (Wanchope, h-t), Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Simpson, Taylor (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Bookings: Newcastle: Ferdinand. Derby: Asanovic.
Man of the match: Asprilla.
Attendance: 36,553.Reuse content