Football: Fall and rise of Magpies

Newcastle United 7 Tottenham Hotspur

Not for the first time, Terry McDermott had the final say on a seven- goal slaughter of Spurs. Had it not been for Allan Nielsen's apologetic last word on the pitch at St James' Park on Saturday, Newcastle's assistant manager would have been crowing about equalling the most savage beating of the cockerels, which he completed with a diving header at Anfield in September 978.

Glenn Hoddle, a spectator in the Milburn Stand, would have needed no reminding of Tottenham's record 7-0 defeat. He was bypassed in the sweeping move which produced McDermott's magnificent seventh for Liverpool: "One of the best goals in the club's history," Bob Paisley called it.

Anfield's most successful manager was never prone to exaggeration and McDermott, Newcastle's nominated spokesman in the post-match absence of Kevin Keegan, was not stretching the truth when he said: "We could easily have had double figures."

It was little wonder Gerry Francis' face matched the colour of his hair. "Man Utd let in six at Southampton after their 5-0 defeat here," the Tottenham manager pointed out. "So we certainly have to pick ourselves up quickly."

Perhaps Saturday was Tottenham's after-shock result, albeit delayed by the flattering deception of four unbeaten games since their thudding 6- defeat in the Coca-Cola Cup at Bolton. Had they won on Tyneside, they would have gone into the new year level on points with Newcastle, who blitzed from one extreme of the record books to the other in 90 minutes.

It always seems to be black or white with Keegan's chameleons. At kick- off time they stood on the threshold of the longest league run without a win since the Magpies plummeted from the top flight with Jim Smith back in 989.

But for Nielsen's last-minute goal, they would have finished the game with the club's first seven-goal winning margin in the top division since a 9-2 home victory against Liverpool in 934. As it was, the final scoreline matched the best of Keegan's near-five-year management career.

After six weeks without a league win and relegation form of four points from seven games, the gloom army became the boom army once again. Sir John Hall, who confessed recent home performances had driven him to such despair he had slipped away from his private box and switched on terrestrial television in his office, said they played "like the old Newcastle".

Once Alan Shearer broke through, the crestfallen Magpies did indeed soar back to their irresistible attacking best. The pounds 5m man was outstanding, as were the colleagues who also bagged a brace of goals, Les Ferdinand and Robert Lee. Shaka Hislop provided renewed stability in goal and the snap returned to David Batty's game.

The fulcrum of much of Newcastle's sweeping play, however, was the brilliant Peter Beardsley, restored to the central attacking support role in which he schemes - even three weeks short of his 36th birthday - like a classic inside-forward.

"It was the perfect answer to our critics," McDermott said. "It was what we call a Newcastle United performance." It would be just as typical a Newcastle performance, though, to become snared in the tight defensive trap George Graham's Leeds are likely to lay at St James' on New Year's Day - or, indeed, to be hustled out of the FA Cup by Charlton at The Valley on Sunday.

The $60,000 question has yet to be answered? Can Keegan's expensively assembled black and white minstrels find the shade of consistency they will need to become prize winners?

Goals: Shearer (20) -0; Ferdinand (22) 2-0; Ferdinand (59) 3-0; Lee (6) 4-0; Albert (79) 5-0; Shearer (82) 6-0; Lee (88) 7-0; Nielsen (89) 7-.

Newcastle United (4-3--2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie (Clark, 4), Batty, Lee; Beardsley; Ferdinand, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Elliott, Kitson, Crawford, Srnicek (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4--3-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Wilson; Howells; Fox, Nielsen, Sinton (Dozzell, h-t; Rosenthal, 54); Iversen, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Austin, Nethercott, Bardsen (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Bookings: Newcastle: Lee. Tottenham: Nielsen, Howells.

Man of the match: Beardsley.

Attendance: 36,308.