FOOTBALL: Hard slog to top for Newcastle

Keegan's side show the other side of their character as they grind out a victory despite loss of French playmaker
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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 2 Chelsea 0

Newcastle United, their finery locked away for another occasion, slogged rather than swept their way to the top of the Premiership yesterday. Their signature flowing moves were missing, but in their place were determination, persistence and just a shade of luck.

Les Ferdinand scored twice to take his total to nine goals in eight matches. Both could have been prevented by a more resilient and alert team than Chelsea.

Not that it will worry Newcastle who have won six of their seven League matches and lead the table by two points from Manchester United. They deserved their success yesterday because of their overwhelming share of possession and chances. On another day, however, they would have won by far more.

"They made it difficult for us," Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said. "But a lot of teams are going to come here and play that way. We have to keep our discipline and shape. We were in control but we were not allowed to play with our usual flair. We have to learn to live with that."

Keegan had said that he thought he had a good squad last season but this time he knows he has and it will seem he will soon discover if he is right. Yesterday he was deprived of one playmaker, Peter Beardsley who will be out for three weeks after a knee operation, and within 17 minutes he had lost another, David Ginola, with a thigh injury.

Most teams would struggle without their two main sources of creation and Newcastle were no exception. Ruel Fox attempted to fill the Beardsley role but a few half chances apart - the best to Steve Howey who volleyed over at 20 minutes - the home side were showing signs of frustration when Ferdinand struck four minutes from half-time. He began and finished the move, sweeping a path to Keith Gillespie before turning to thump a half volley in off the bar.

If Chelsea's defence was less than rigid then, they collapsed under the weight of their own errors for Newcastle's second after 57 minutes. Shaka Hislop cleared downfield and the ball was allowed to travel towards the visiting goal thanks to Ruud Gullit's miscalculation. Even then the danger should have been averted but Dmitri Kharin's giant sweep of his boot merely propelled the ball against Ferdinand's arm and the rebound bounced embarrassingly into an empty net.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton (Watson, 72), D Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Gillespie, Lee, Clark, Ginola (Sellars, 17); Fox, Ferdinand. Substitute not used: Srnicek (gk).

Chelsea: (5-3-2): Kharin; Clarke, Johnsen, Gullit, Sinclair, Minto (Newton, 26); G Peacock, Spackman, Wise; Hughes, Stein (Furlong, 72). Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

n Ruel Fox, the Newcastle midfielder, has been told by his manager, Kevin Keegan, that he can leave the club but only when he has a replacement. Keegan said he had already rejected a pounds 4m bid for the player but declined to name the club who had made it. Leeds had made an approach but their valuation was less than the pounds 2.25m he had paid Norwich for the player two seasons ago.

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