Football / First Division: Newcastle back to form

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Millwall. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

NEWCASTLE United shrugged off their recent indifferent form to reassert their pre-eminence at the top of the First Division yesterday. Millwall, however, without a win in six games, are beginning to slip from the play-off frame.

Despite the rewards at stake neither side was prepared to sacrifice principles for expedience. For those of us accustomed to the power-driven percentage play of the Premier League the ball spent an extraordinary amount of time on the ground.

More ambitious and more successful than most in the opening half was Martin Allen. Playing just behind the front pair he continually threatened to open up the Newcastle defence.

And if Millwall's goal in the 18th minute owed something to good fortune they had certainly earned their luck by then. Phil Barber broke powerfully down the right and, evading Paul Bracewell's challenge, swung over a centre. The ball, however, seemed to take a deflection off Bracewell, certainly it sailed over the stranded Pavel Srnicek and in at the far post.

Although Andy Cole and David Kelly both had half-chances, Newcastle struggled to provide a fluent supply for their forwards and it was Millwall who nearly added to the goal tally. Just after the half- hour Colin Cooper drove a well- worked free-kick against the post and Allen, following up, could only clip the ball back against the woodwork.

In the second half, however, Millwall were unable or unwilling to maintain their attacking drive. Allen was shackled by the undivided attention of Bracewell. His colleagues sat back on their lead. The danger signs were there as Lee Clark twice went close, but the Lions failed to heed them.

Newcastle's breakthrough, although it became increasingly likely, did not arrive until the 65th minute. Barry Venison threaded a low pass through to Cole from the edge of the six-yard box. The Newcastle forward all but lost control of the ball as he turned but Clark arrived on cue to rap it home.

After that more goals seemed sure to follow. Cole showed exceptional skill to drag the ball round Gavin Maguire and tee up a close- range shot. Uncharacteristically, he drove it wide.

He promptly made amends however, securing the points with another turn of style. Meeting Brian Kilcline's knock-down with his back to goal, Cole spun neatly and placed the ball past Kasey Keller's dive.

Eight minutes from time Cole was taken off to rousing Geordie cheers and the relief of the Millwall players. It was, however, the only relief the home side secured in the closing stages.

For Newcastle, with the points in the bag - and with young players of Clark and Cole's quality - the future is, as Kevin Keegan remarked, 'looking rosy'.

Millwall: K Keller; K Cunningham, I Dawes, A Roberts, C Cooper, G Maguire, A Rae, D Wallace (T Gaynor 69 min), M Allen, J Goodman (T Dolby 59 min), P Barber. Player-manager: M McCarthy.

Newcastle United: P Srnicek; B Venison, J Beresford, P Bracewell, K Scott, B Kilcline, R Lee, A Cole (K Brock 82 min), D Kelly, L Clark, S Sellars. Substitute not used: M Robinson. Manager: K Keegan.

Goals: Barber (1-0 18 min); Clark (1-1 65 min), Cole (1-2 73 min).

Referee: V Callow (Solihull).