Football: Freedom lets Speed turn joke on Smith

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Derby County 3

Burton 8, Baiano pen 22, Wanchope 90

Newcastle United 4

Speed 11, 24, Ketsbaia 39, Solano 60

Half-time: 2-3 Attendance: 32,039

THIS WAS a hugely impressive performance by Newcastle, who managed to combine boldness, bravery and beauty to win a contest of unrelenting excitement at Pride Park, proving a point into the bargain.

Without Alan Shearer and Dietmar Hamann, who had joined an already long list of absentees, and arriving on the back of defeats against Manchester United and West Ham, Ruud Gullit's side could have been forgiven for adopting a conservative approach. Rejecting any such notion, they twice came from behind to pull off a breathtaking victory.

It was an outcome all the more satisfying to Gullit's team, given that Derby had branded their likely qualification for Europe next season as FA Cup semi-finalists as "a joke".

In a nutshell, the Uefa Cup place Derby mistakenly thought they could claim for finishing fifth in the Premiership will probably go to Newcastle because the FA Cup must provide one qualifier and the other three semi- finalists - the Worthington Cup winners, Tottenham, plus the Champions' League probables, Manchester United and Arsenal - are likely to qualify by other means. This, unsurprisingly, has not amused Jim Smith, the Derby manager, who said as much again yesterday.

"Uefa say the situation was clear all along but the timing of last week's clarification was bound to have an effect," he said. "Maybe because Newcastle came to this game knowing they are almost certain to be in Europe, they were able to play with the freedom you saw. They were very adventurous."

Goals came in a steady stream after Derby's Deon Burton struck in the eighth minute. Francesco Baiano, controlling a cross from Vass Borbokis on his chest, hit the underside of the bar with an 18-yard overhead. Nikolas Dabizas tried to hoof the ball away but succeeded only in teeing up another overhead from Burton, who from closer range scored.

Within four minutes, Gary Speed dived in for the first of his two equalisers - a low header that skidded past Russell Hoult.

Eleven minutes on, Derby were in front again, Baiano scoring from the penalty spot after being pulled down by Dabizas. Again Speed put the visitors on level terms, his low free-kick deflected in off Burton.

Amid unrelenting drama, Mikkel Beck would have marked his home debut with a goal but for Shay Given's brilliant save after another fine Borbokis cross, but Derby's luck was out. The third Newcastle goal demonstrated the point with painful clarity. Temuri Ketsbaia's shot took a huge bounce off Stefan Schoor to leave Hoult stranded.

Luck played no part, though, in the sixth and most dazzling goal, finished with a volley by Nolberto Solano at the end of a four-man move launched by the pivotal Rob Lee.

Derby threw caution to the wind, sending on Paulo Wanchope and Dean Sturridge as fourth and fifth attackers. But even in this match there was no coming back from two behind, although the substitutes combined, with a cross and header, to seize last-minute consolation.