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AFTER the nadir the hope. The pall that has enveloped English football since Rotterdam lifted fractionally at St James' Park yesterday when two positive Premiership teams, both full of English talent and managed by prospective successors to Graham Taylor, produced a match full of vigour and no little expertise, which was deservedly won by Rangers.
From forward line to touch- line, there were men out there who possessed the ability to transfer their accomplishments at club level to the international arena.
Les Ferdinand, remarkably restored to full fitness after missing the Dutch debacle, displayed the full range of his attacking art - imperious in the air, fast moving over the ground - while the young pretender, Andy Cole, the leading scorer in the top flight, was tightly patrolled by Darren Peacock yet still showed occasional signs of his formidable potential.
Kevin Keegan and his Rangers counterpart, Gerry Francis, both spoke afterwards of the need for the country which they captained so impressively to put its house in order, in the Newcastle manager's words to create a 'new structure' within which the England No 1 could operate more effectively.
Francis wore the bigger smile and, tacitly, refused to rule himself out of the England frame. His good humour was understandable. Ferdinand, exploiting a slow-moving home defence, struck the post three times in the first 10 minutes, his second knock on wood rolling along the line before bouncing off the right-hand upright and into the net.
The fast but thoughtful football exhibited by Rangers in the first half was encouraging to behold, particularly when Ray Wilkins was at its centre. Newcastle dominated the second period but lacked the vision that Wilkins gave the visitors.
United found and relinquished parity within three minutes of the restart. Malcolm Allen brought them level with a powerfully propelled volley from Stephen Watson's long right-wing cross but the Geordie jubilation was short-lived. Wilkins's corner to the far post was turned back by Ferdinand for Bradley Allen to hook in the winner from close range and end the hosts' 10-match unbeaten run.
Newcastle nearly secured a point - which would have been a 'travesty' Keegan admitted - when Alan McDonald was harshly adjudged to have handled. Malcolm Allen stepped up but his penalty was palmed away by Jan Stejskal.
'We deserved to get beaten,' Keegan said. 'They were the better side. Ferdinand was superb: I don't think I've seen a player win more in the air. He really showed Cole what he needs to do if he wants to play for England.'Reuse content