Football: Duncan delivers double delight

With and without Ferguson: Scot hits the spot for Newcastle as Cadamarteri covers Goodison gap
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Newcastle United 3 Wimbledon 1

Solano 38, Ferguson 59, 90 Gayle 34

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 36,623

DUNCAN Ferguson, pigeon fancier turned Magpie, settled happily enough in his new home roost yesterday. After 59 minutes of wing-and-a- prayer service, Ruud Gullit's pounds 7m fancy not so much soared as stumbled to his big occassion, meeting Nolberto Solano's cross from the left with a mis-hit left-foot shot that bounced down into the Tyneside turf before finding the top left corner of the Wimbledon goal. It was not pretty but it was effective. So, indeed, was the Ferguson header that converted Keith Gillespie's right-wing corner in the final minute.

The one-time guest of Barlinnie thus succeeded in getting his new club out of jail. Whether he can keep Newcastle out of trouble in the Premiership, however, remains to be seen. Gullit moaned last week that he had inherited "a relegation team" and in the first-half yesterday his Magpies played like endangered top-flight species. For Ferguson, it could have been a disorientating afternoon, what with no Z Cars tune blaring over the tannoy as he took the field and with a No 20 black and white shirt on his back. He still had his Everton crest and No 9 tattooed on his left arm, though, and he duly repeated the feat he achieved for his old club at Selhurst Park seven weeks ago: scoring a winner against Wimbledon.

Newcastle, of course, had a firebrand Scot leading their forward line the last time they ruled the football land. At 5ft 5in, Hughie Gallacher cut a strikingly different figure to the 6ft 4in Ferguson but he was a big man on the goalscoring front, plundering 39 in Newcastle's championship- winning 1926-27 campaign. He was also once accused of being drunk and disorderly on a football pitch, one charge that has never been levelled against Duncan Disorderly.

It is Newcastle, in fact, who have been hungover of late. They have found no effective cure for the striking problems they have encountered since losing the title race to the fast-finishing Manchester United three seasons ago. Despite spending pounds 31.3m on forwards since then (pounds 15m on Alan Shearer, pounds 2.2m on Jon Dahl Tomasson, pounds 3.6m on Andreas Andersson, pounds 3.5m on Stephane Guivarc'h and now pounds 7m on Ferguson), they have not moved any closer to the holy grail of their first championship since the sepia days of Wee Hughie.

Indeed, they have drifted farther away from it. They had to win their final home match last season to keep Premiership football at St James' Park. And, after five league games without a win, Ruud's boys were too close to the relegation zone for comfort at kick-off time yesterday. There was also discomfort apparent behind the scenes, with the Yorkshire terrier David Batty demanding to be let off his lead to return to Leeds and Shearer less than unequivocal in the so-called pledging of his future to the black and white cause.

In the absence of the hamstrung Shearer, the disaffected Batty and the injured Rob Lee, Gullit's starting line-up did not look too comfortable either. Joe Kinnear apparently thought so too. He sent out his team in ambitious 3-3-4 formation, though they reverted to 4-4-2 when Newcastle pressed. Not that the pressing was particularly threatening, not initially at any rate. Gullit's game plan was, clearly, to get the ball to his wingers and on to Ferguson's head. That was the theory, at least. In practice, Newcastle's new acquisition was as forlorn a figure as the crane towering above the Sir John Hall Stand.

Ferguson dropped increasingly deeper as the first half progressed but it was a member of the opposition ranks who received the first significant scrap of possession from a Newcastle player. Four minutes past the half- hour mark Gary Speed scuffed an attempted pass out of defence directly at Marcus Gayle, who needed no invitation to stride into the box and blast a right-foot shot past Shay Given.

The natives got restless. Speed's every touch was booed. But then, with 38 minutes on the clock, Gillespie scampered down the right and, though Dean Blackwell managed to prevent the ball from heading in Ferguson's direction, Nolberto Solano volleyed it past Neil Sullivan from the left edge of the Wimbledon penalty area. It was the Peruvian's first goal in England and it would have been followed by a second before half-time but for a stunning reflex save by Sullivan.

Newcastle did not reach the break without suffering further damage themselves. Given was hurt in a goalmouth scramble with Gayle and was replaced after half-time by Steve Harper. It was the young goalkeeper's first match for Newcastle but not his first against Wimbledon, having produced a man-of- the-match performance on loan for Huddersfield Town in the Dons' FA Cup victory at the McAlpine Stadium in March.

There were no heroics from Harper yesterday. They were not required. Having fluttered to deceive for the best part of an hour, the Magpies eventually found their wings - and their new front man. Gullit even found the perfect pay-off when asked whether Ferguson had given him a lift. "No," he said. "I came in my own car."

As for the match winner, he even made his own way to the press room. "It's great to get off to a winning start," Ferguson said. "Two goals. Three points. I couldn't ask for any more." John Parrott's brother-in- law, Ferguson was not so much sick as over the moon.