Football: Fiery Cole levels with the best

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Liverpool . . . . . . . . . . .0

Newcastle United. . . . . . . .2

Lee 4, Cole 56

Attendance: 44,601

THE atmosphere at Anfield was heavy with a sense of transition. There is one more home game before the Kop is dismantled, but the old Liverpool heritage that sustained the most famous terrace in football seems increasingly distant.

If the long-standing flag-bearers of stylish and competitive football have dropped their banner, Newcastle are well equipped to pick it up. Liverpool were desperately short of attacking ideas, easily shackled by Kevin Keegan's strategy of denying them width and crowding them out in the middle.

Ruel Fox was the key, remorseless in his tracking back of Liverpool's Steve McManaman on the left, while Paul Bracewell, in the midfield holding position, organised Newcastle's swarming hordes and the impressive Robert Lee prompted their forward probings.

It worked. Liverpool, failing to make much progress on the left, spent much of the game backpedalling before passing the ball aimlessly into the edge of the area. 'They had a lot of possession,' Keegan said, 'but never really looked like hurting us.' Roy Evans, his Liverpool counterpart, had much the same view. 'We were quite pretty in possession but that doesn't get you goals. At times we were passing ourselves to sleep. We never showed any passion or real desire to win it.'

The one shining exception was John Barnes, who found time where the rest of Liverpool's midfield could only find bumps in the pitch. However, where once Barnes was the virtuoso conductor of an extraordinary orchestra he now appears something of a one- man band struggling to be heard above a ragged ensemble.

Within four minutes Liverpool were behind. Andy Cole threaded a perfect ball behind Liverpool's ponderous and square central defence. Lee latched on to the perfectly weighted pass and clipped it over David James. Cole secured the win in the second half, equalling George Robledo's and Hughie Gallacher's club record of 39 goals in a season.

After another spell of shapeless Liverpool pressure, Pavel Srnicek sent Fox away on the right just inside his own half. Cole took Fox's pass and hit a low right-footed shot into the far corner with the sort of inevitability that used to be the preserve of his opposite number Ian Rush.