Newcastle United 5
NEWCASTLE did not slip quietly back into Europe last night, they barged down the door and demanded the Continent take notice. Seventeen years after their last appearance in the Uefa Cup, they made this first-round tie a formality with a compelling performance in the away leg.
Just as the Premiership has been bewildered by the League leaders' movement and the sheer pace at which their skills are unveiled, Antwerp were ripped to pieces. This, remember, a team seasoned enough in European club competition to reach the final of the Cup- Winners' Cup 16 months ago. Last night they looked the novices; Newcastle an exuberant and dynamic force.
Robert Lee was the principal tormentor of the Belgians, compiling a hat-trick, all headers, in the first 50 minutes that takes his total to eight goals in six matches this season. Scott Sellars and the second-half substitute, Steve Watson, were the other scorers, and such was the ferocity of the barrage that Peter Beardsley's return almost went unnoticed.
'It was an incredible performance,' Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said. 'I cannot remember a better one, even when I was with Liverpool. This was not a stroll, Antwerp are a good team.
'I told the players we would be as strong as our weakest link but there wasn't one. A lot of our players were making their European debuts - even Peter Beardsley - but everyone did his job.'
Keegan had urged his Newcastle team to keep possession in the early stages, drawing all the enthusiasm out of the home side and the spectators. He promised he would not tinker with his team's tactics, fearing that change might prove counter-productive. 'Business as usual,' had been his theme, which had pessimists fearing that Newcastle's natural inclination to attack might naively leave them drawn forward and vulnerable to the counter-punch.
Such trepidation did not survive the first minute. John Beresford, the visiting left-back, was true to his manager's word, foregoing his defensive duties to charge down the flank. The cross was firm, but limp in comparison to the pace with which Lee arrived in the area, diving to head in from eight yards.
It was a similar range for the second goal, too. This time Lee played provider as well as finisher, finding Ruel Fox with a pass down the right wing and then charging into the area, a run of 30 yards, to meet the centre. A sign of the Belgian disarray at this point was that an unattended Andy Cole was immediately behind the scorer as he made contact with the ball.
Antwerp, stunned by this fusilage, probably felt aggrieved as Francis Severeyns, their sole striker, had been denied a goal between Lee's double only by an outstanding save from Pavel Srnicek. Severeyns was denied again after 22 minutes when the Newcastle goalkeeper saved at his feet.
This was a rare interruption of the black and white flow and Newcastle made it 3-0 after 35 minutes. Fox, a constant irritant to the Belgians, crossed from the right, Cole trapped the ball and then passed inside to Sellars who side-footed it in. Few 45-minute spells in Europe had been as satisfying as this one had been for Newcastle.
The excitement among the estimated 5,000 supporters who had travelled from Tyneside was immense, and it was indicative of the way the match had gone that 200 Newcastle fans were removed from a section of the main stand because their jumping up and down had the authorities fearing for the rickety seating. A much more subdued collection of Antwerp fans took their place.
They were even more gloomy five minutes into the second half when Lee, enhancing his claim as the most improved midfield player in England, completed his hat- trick. Again the finishing flourish came with his head, this time Marc Hottiger providing the pass on the right.
After 77 minutes the match had become a rout, Watson dribbling round the by-now bewildered 44- year-old home keeper, Ratko Svilar, and scoring from a narrow angle.
Royal Antwerp (5-4-1): Svilar; Kulcsar, Emmerechts, Broeckaert, Smidts, Godfroid; Vangompel, Kiekens, Porte, Zohar (Rubenilson, 66); Severeyns.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Hottiger, Albert, Peacock, Beresford; Fox, Venison, Lee, Sellars; Beardsley (Watson, 69), Cole (Jeffrey, 69).
Referee: R Wojcik (Poland).
United's Euro task, page 31