Football: Dalglish suffers from selling close to the wind

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 1

The announcer on the PA system was inadvertently to the point. "May the best team win," he said, "and I think we all know who that is." We do, and they were not at St James' Park.

Certainly not in black and white shirts. This was a thoroughly lamentable performance from Newcastle, who are beginning to reap the consequences of their transfer policies. They might score this side of Christmas but you would not bet your house on it.

The consensus has been that their manager, Kenny Dalglish, had been unfortunate to lose Alan Shearer and Faustino Asprilla to injury. He has, and surely if they had both been playing Newcastle would have carried more threat, but the problems run deeper. So deep in fact, it could require millions to put them right and no one is sure if Newcastle can run to that kind of money any more.

Against Bolton and again on Saturday it was not the lack of a striker that crippled Newcastle - Asprilla was so patently lacking in match fitness he was there in name only - but the total absence of wit. "Our passing was poor," Dalglish mumbled afterwards, which let off lightly their dribbling, running off the ball and imagination.

There was barely a shot from within a range or angle where a goal was likely, and that was due to the service into the box rather than the personnel in it. Newcastle could have had Gerd Muller and Jackie Milburn leading their line on Saturday, and the words "scoring" and "not in a month of Sundays" would have been sprung to mind.

Which comes down to the culling of creativity in the last 12 months. David Ginola is nobody's idea of the perfect footballer, but he can slice open defences when the mood takes him. To jettison him was understandable, but to let Lee Clark and Peter Beardsley go as well has meant that Newcastle are full of worthy runners and workers and, Keith Gillespie apart, bereft of match-winners. Either the money men or Dalglish are at fault and the supporters would love to know which.

The whole performance was summed up neatly by the naming of David Batty as man of the match. Good grief, the man might run through brick walls for you, but he could no more find a defence-piercing pass than he could ignore a 50-50 tackle. He embodied Newcastle's limitations rather than stood above them.

It required a, shall we say, strange perception to nominate Batty when Tony Adams had been solid as a tree trunk in the Arsenal defence and Ian Wright had given clear indications that reports of his playing death are premature. The Gunners won 1-0, and believe me one goal was always going to be enough, but they could have trebled their advantage.

One glorious 20th-minute pass from Wright should have been crowned by Dennis Bergkamp but his shot was saved by Shaka Hislop, while Wright would have had an open goal at his mercy if Ray Parlour had had the brains to pass instead of trying to score from an improbable angle after 72 minutes. Against another side such wastefulness might have been costly; against Newcastle it did not matter.

The goal that did come was a relief for the uncommitted spectator but that paled into insignificance compared to Wright's feelings. He had not scored for two months but thumped his header past Hislop after Marc Overmars had swept past Batty with a deft flick of his heel and Bergkamp had provided the cross. Wright took off towards the Arsenal supporters like Christmas had come early, which to him it probably had.

Newcastle could only watch, and wonder what scoring must be like. Half- way through the first half the PA burst to life again because someone had got into the ground and could not find his seat. A guide was required, which was equally applicable to the team. Could someone point out to them what the goals look like? Please.

Goal: Wright (35) 0-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Pearce, Pistone; Gillespie, Batty, Lee, Barnes; Tomasson (Ketsbaia, 75), Asprilla (Albert, 62). Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Howey, Hamilton.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Platt, Petit, Overmars; Wright, Bergkamp. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Upson, Mendez, Marshall, Hughes.

Bookings: Arsenal: Petit. Adams.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Man of the match: Adams.

Attendance: 36,751.