Football: Dalglish's striking problem

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The Independent Online
Ajax 3 Newcastle United 0

With Alan Shearer on a hospital operating table and Les Ferdinand on his way to Tottenham, winning the third place play-off in a pre-season tournament was probably the last thing on Newcastle's mind.

But at least Kenny Dalglish could use this otherwise sterile encounter with the Dutchmen to see how effectively the twin breech in his strike force could be plugged.

What he saw will not have inspired much confidence, even allowing for the lack of sharpness to be expected in a non-competitive match at the end of July.

Faustino Asprilla, sent to forage up front alone, occasionally displayed the sleight of foot and deftness of touch that opens up defences for the missing strikers, and Peter Beardsley, playing in the hole behind him, produced the odd incisive pass.

Once, when Asprilla's delicate first-half back-heel released Beardsley into the box with only goalkeeper Fred Grim to beat, they even combined to create a clear-cut chance. But what Newcastle were crying out for, as if they needed reminding, was a striker with the killer instinct.

Beardsley pulled that chance, probably Newcastle's best, across the face of goal, and Asprilla twice dwelt too long on the ball with the goal at his mercy and was robbed by timely Ajax tackles.

But it was Ajax who showed what finishing is all about with three excellent goals in nine minutes late in the second half.

Substitute Benni McCarthy had only just come on to the pitch when he turned in Shota Arveladze's free-kick from six yards with the sort of first-touch efficiency of which Shearer would have been proud. The second, a 35-yard screamer from Nigerian international Sunday Oliseh, was pure theatre, and Pavel Srnicek hardly saw it as it flashed past him.

McCarthy, a 17-year-old South African, rounded it off with what was almost a repeat of his first goal, though this time the Ajax captain, Frank de Boer, was the provider.

The ease with which Ajax changed gear in the second half to cruise home should give Dalglish something else to think about.

Srnicek had been badly exposed even before the floodgates opened and for a while another Newcastle injury crisis threatened when he lay prone for several minutes in the back of his net after making a reflex save.

Fortunately, the goalkeeper was able to resume, but turning the wooden spoon in this tournament into some sort of silverware when the real action begins will require all Dalglish's old managerial alchemy.

Ajax (4-4-2): Grim; Tobiasen, F De Boer, Oliseh, Sier; Babangida, Laudrup (Rudy, h-t), Sibon (McCarthy, 73), Witschge (Gorre, h-t); Hoekstra (Arveladze, h-t), R De Boer (Dani, h-t).

Newcastle (4-4-1-1): Srnicek; Barton, Hughes, Howey, Beresford; Gillespie (Ketsbaia, 58), Lee (Watson, 58), Batty (Crawford, 36), Hamilton; Beardsley; Asprilla.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).