Football: Gullit points finger at Poll

Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 3
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The Independent Online
RUUD GULLIT was remarkably chirpy after Newcastle had suffered what, in black and white at least, looks a devastating defeat.

"I am very happy with the performance," he said with a big grin. "I told the players that they played an excellent game and 3-0 is not a fair reflection of that. We weren't beaten by a better side, but by the decisions of the referee."

There was a goal disallowed, a penalty appeal turned down and a player sent off, and yet the few but forceful chants of "what a load of rubbish" that echoed round a rapidly-emptying St James' Park on the final whistle were not solely aimed at referee Graham Poll. Of his three contentious decisions, only denying Paul Dalglish a penalty was seriously questionable. As Harry Redknapp diplomatically said: "There was definitely a push from Alan Shearer as he scored the `goal' and, although I am a big fan of Stuart Pearce, I thought he did catch Trevor Sinclair." As it was with a head- high elbow at some pace from behind, Mr Poll probably felt he had no alternative.

And Gullit wilfully overlooks that as well as conceding three goals through reluctant, reprehensible defending. Newcastle three times were forced to clear desperately, and in the case of Alessandro Pistone quite brilliantly as he denied Ian Wright a hat-trick. Plus Shay Given was twice extended - in the case of Wright's 30th minute drive, again quite brilliantly.

Yet perhaps Gullit did have a few reasons to be cheerful. Dalglish did not content himself with picking up the scraps from Shearer's table - a table increasingly bare after a sixth successive barren match and a performance that gave Rio Ferdinand few headaches. Dalglish dropped deep foraging for the ball, and looked lively and inventive - a couple of his touches too inventive for David Batty.

And so the spoils to Wright and Redknapp. Full of praise for Wright, who is 35 tomorrow, the manager too deserves credit. He had swapped Paul Kitson for John Hartson and left Julian Dicks at home. "I changed the system and that meant sacrificing Eyal Berkovic. I played 4-4-2 and defined everybody's roles within that and they all did their jobs," said Redknapp.

Goals: Wright (56) 0-1; Sinclair (76) 0-2; Wright (90) 0-3.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Griffin, Char-vet, Davizas, S Pearce; Solano (Ketsbaia, 74) Batty, Speed, Glass (Pistone, 52); Dalglish (Gillespie, 84) Shearer. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Barton.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; I Pearce, Ruddock, Ferdinand, Impey (Potts, 73); Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Keller; Wright, Kitson (Hartson, 82). Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Moncur, Berkovic.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: West Ham: Ruddock, Sinclair, Potts. Sending-off: Newcastle: S Pearce.

Attendance: 36,744.

Man of the match: Wright.