Football: Gullit's gamble backfires

Newcastle United 1 Sunderland 2
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The Independent Online
NEVER MIND that Ruud Gullit lost the match he had to win in order to retrieve Newcastle's fast-diminishing Premiership credibility. The real point is just how will he tackle his next major contest, namely winning the Alan Shearer battle.

Last night Gullit not only thought the unthinkable, he put it into mischievous practise by dropping England's captain for this must-win game.

It may turn out to be the biggest gamble of his eventful managerial career. What is certain though is that it backfired in horrendous fashion.

For Newcastle's fervent hordes it is now part of a depressingly familiar pattern. Gullit's team, assembled at considerable cost, is still waiting to record its first League win of the season, having collected just one point from a possible 15. And just as they did against Wimbledon on Saturday they found themselves with a losing hand after picking up what looked for all the world like a winning one.

On an evening blighted by incessant rain they took the lead thanks to the powerful running of Kieron Dyer who put them in front after 27 minutes. The truth of it was, though, that Sunderland, fresh up from the First Division, were never overawed and fought their way back into the game.

When it was all over Gullit made one thing clear - he is not, he insists, about to quit Newcastle.

Nor did he make any apology for leaving Shearer on the bench. Indeed he made no attempt to disguise the fact that he had not informed his pounds 15m striker that he was going to drop him. "The team-sheet went up on the board," he said. "It's not about Alan Shearer, it's about Newcastle. And no, I did not tell him personally.

"We were doing well until we brought Paul Robinson off. We put Alan Shearer on and we lost. What is the conclusion? It is the old story. We made vital mistakes at vital times.

"I do not want to be in this position, but I am. For some reason we just tend to lose concentration in games. However, I have to guide this team to better times, and as for whether there was a gamble tonight no one complained when we were leading in the first half. I can understand the fans' frustration. Am I running out of time? I am always running out of time, I can use every minute of the day."

It all began to go horribly wrong early in the second half when Sunderland, despite any profit, continued to see Niall Quinn's head as their salvation. So it was that which Nicky Summerbee aimed for when he whipped over a fierce free-kick after 65 minutes.

Nicos Dabizas, the Greek defender, had done a good marking job on the veteran Irishman. However, for once Quinn lost his marker and deftly directed his header beyond Tommy Wright.

Three minutes after Shearer's arrival it was Sunderland who scored the winner. Peter Reid, the Sunderland manager, has his own master finisher in Kevin Phillips.

The diminutive striker looked for all the world as though he had lost the chance of scoring his fourth Premiership goal when Wright blocked his close-range shot, but like the predator he is he considered it unfinished business.

After hastily retrieving the rebound, he restored his balance and delightfully lifted a subtle shot over the off-balance goalkeeper.

Reid said: "He is top quality and that goal shows why."

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Wright; Barton, Dabizas, Goma, Domi; Dyer, McClen, Speed, Solano; Maric (Shearer, 72), Robinson (Ferguson, 57). Substitutes not used: Green, Hughes, Harper (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Rae, McCann, Schwarz (Ball, 69); Quinn, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Oster, Dichio, Helmer, Marriott (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).