Rio Ferdinand had spent 90 minutes keeping England's most feared striker, Alan Shearer, in his pocket through a succession of expertly timed leaps and clearances. Shaka Hislop had spent 90 minutes on the bench, dropped because of an ineptly timed contract dispute. In the match programme, Hislop had told how he had turned down Trinidad's approaches, seen off the challenge of Republic of Ireland keeper, Shay Given, racked up 18 consecutive appearances for Newcastle, and won an England call-up. He concluded: "The most important thing is to keep my place in the Newcastle team."
Before the print was dry, he was dropped. "He's exercised his right to turn down the offer the club has put to him," his manager, Kenny Dalglish, explained. "The club has exercised its right to play a goalkeeper [Given] who has signed a four-year contract."
West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, was positively drooling over the performance of his protege, Ferdinand. "He's a different class," he said. "People have criticised him for making a mistake, but he only turned 19 last week. Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer made mistakes. He gets the ball down and takes a chance, and once in 10 games he might make a mistake, but if I tell him to boot the ball into the stand, he won't become the player we want him to."
In truth, though, Ferdinand's work-out against Shearer was not the test it should have been, especially as West Ham started with the worst away record in the League. Newcastle fielded pounds 10m-worth of new signings, but despite referee Uriah Rennie adding 10 minutes of "injury" time, they only created a couple of potent openings. These fell to two of their three home debutantes: Andreas Andersson ran back and forth across the pitch before finally shaking off the obdurate Ian Pearce and rolling a shot against the post, and Shearer, momentarily in space, pushing a header into the path of Gary Speed, who stabbed wide.
For the rest of the game, Newcastle lacked speed of both thought and foot. Only once did Keith Gillespie accelerate down his right wing, to be halted by John Moncur tumbling into him from behind. Only once did Robert Lee have enough guile to unlock the Hammers, bravely waiting before scooping the ball into the path of Speed's intelligent cross-field run. Shearer screwed the resulting cross over the bar, suggesting to the watching England coach, Glenn Hoddle, that he is not yet quite the player he was.
Instead, a goal down after Stan Lazaridis' 30-yard wonder strike, Newcastle relied on the pattern that has served them so poorly this season. Lee and David Batty ineffectually passed the ball sideways across their opponent's defence before tidily laying it backwards for Stuart Pearce, Darren Peacock and Alessandro Pistone to hoof upfield.
As Ferdinand leapt time and again to thwart such tactics, Newcastle could have done with one piece of the "different class" he displayed. Twice in the first half he found John Hartson with precision passes - one a running half-volley that landed on the striker's toe, the other a clearance which arched over Pistone's head into the striker's path. But then, Ferdinand knows where he hopes to go - France - whereas Newcastle, like their recalcitrant keeper, still are not sure.
Goal: Lazaridis (16) 0-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Pistone, Peacock, S Pearce, Griffin (Tomasson, 84); Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Speed; Andersson, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Rush, Barnes, Albert, Hislop (gk)
West Ham United (4-4-2): Forrest; Breacker, I Pearce, Ferdinand, Lazaridis; Impey (Potts, 89), Lomas, Moncur, Sinclair; Kitson (Berkovitch, 80), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Mean, Hodges, Lama (gk)
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).
Bookings: Newcastle: Batty. West Ham: Moncur, Impey.
Man of the match: Ferdinand.
Attendance: 36,736.Reuse content