Football: Lee shatters admirable Oldham

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Fox 19, Beardsley 56, Lee 63

Oldham Athletic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Jobson 43, Sharp 57

Attendance: 32,216

OLDHAM ATHLETIC'S post- Wembley depression deepened at St James' Park yesterday when the beaten FA Cup semi- finalists slipped to second from bottom of the Premiership. Twice their endless endeavour brought them equality, but an absorbing match was deservedly settled in Newcastle's favour by Robert Lee midway through the second half.

Andy Cole, the Magpies' goal-collector, failed to register his record-breaking strike but the poacher simply turned goal-maker for Newcastle's first two, for Ruel Fox and Peter Beardsley. Richard Jobson and Graeme Sharp responded quickly to each reverse, but the Latics' dangerous tendency to stand off when opponents attack finally undermined them when Lee ran through to keep Newcastle a point ahead ofArsenal in third place. The teams meet on the final day of the season for what could prove to be a play-off for a Uefa Cup place.

''It was the sort of game where you realise why managers have to take out health insurance,' Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said after an encounter filled with attacking moves and defensive insecurities. 'When the video of this game comes out it will have an X rating. Defensive coaches will certainly not enjoy it.'

Nor will his Oldham counterpart, Joe Royle, despite his team's spirited reaction to adversity. 'We kept going but we have now got to win three of our last five games,' Royle said. 'We have a difficult game at Wimbledon on Tuesday and then it's a game every 10 minutes until the end of the season.'

Royle's side needed 40 minutes to record their first serious attack, within which time United had scored once and in Keegan's words 'had created enough chances to have won the next 10 games'. Their 19th- minute opener resulted from an elegant, precise build-up so typical of Newcastle. John Beresford's astute through-pass along the inside-left channel released Cole, whose shot appeared to be going wide until Fox dived in at the far post.

Cole's contribution was not simply designed to assist others and he could have annihilated the club scoring record of 39 that he holds with Hughie Gallacher and George Robledo before Oldham's silence-

inducing 42nd-minute leveller. Newcastle's central defence failed to deal with the continually excellent Jobson, who met Mark Brennan's left-wing cross with a powerful header. Pavel Srnicek blocked instinctively but was unable to keep out Jobson's close-range follow-up.

After the break, Newcastle renewed their siege and regained the lead from a move full of power and confidence. Cole played the central part, taking the ball off Fox before working a quick-fire one-two off Lee. Reaching the byline, the 22-year-old striker crossed low and hard to the far post where Beardsley was on hand to put away his 21st goal of the season.

Oldham's response was immediate and admirable. Again some below-par defending by Darren Peacock and his rearguard colleagues assisted the visitors but Sharp's side- footed 10-yarder was a masterpiece of cool thinking and finishing.

Thoughts of any permanent parity proved illusory, Lee driving in Newcastle's 63rd-minute winner - his seventh goal in nine games - following a fast break from the half-way line.

Oldham appealed for a penalty when Mike Milligan was bundled over but another victory for Keegan's men was the just result. 'I don't want Oldham to go down,' Keegan said, 'but I think we wanted that chance of Europe more than they wanted to stay in the Premiership.'