Football: Lee torments Rovers

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Tranmere Rovers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

NEWCASTLE UNITED released themselves from the shackles which threatened to hold them within reach of the chasing pack and advanced significant paces towards the Premier League yesterday.

Their first goals in five matches gave the First Division leaders a seven-point advantage over their closest challengers, West Ham United, and more significantly, carried them 14 points ahead of the third club, Millwall.

They were given substantial assistance by Tranmere's hapless keeper, Eric Nixon, whose errors facilitated the first two goals, but then there were others about him who had neither the resolve nor stealth of convincing promotion contenders. Six defeats in seven matches have undermined their confidence and seriously, if not terminally, damaged their ambitions.

The absence of the injured John Aldridge is proving an enormous handicap. Tranmere missed not only his goals but also his ability to orchestrate play. They were devoid of direction and, eventually, hope.

Steve Howey bolstered Newcastle's defence and Lee Clark generated the industry in midfield. His commitment and vision always presented Kevin Keegan's side with the options and inspiration the manager himself provided during his playing days.

The hostile conditions - a strong wind and an inconsistent surface - made life difficult whichever way you play your football and gave scant comfort for two teams seeking fresh belief. Newcastle, however, were given a helping hand by Nixon in the 27th minute. John Beresford directed his volleyed pass down the left touchline to Clark, who cut inside and tried his luck from the edge of the area. Nixon covered the shot yet shovelled the ball back out to Robert Lee, who gratefully accepted the invitation to put Newcastle ahead.

The breakthrough visibly lifted the anxiety from Newcastle's game and suddenly they played with fluency and purpose. Nixon managed to keep hold of Kevin Sheedy's shot after another sweeping move by Newcastle but the goalkeeper lapsed again two minutes before half-time. The defender, Kevin Scott, went up to apply the necessary touch to Clark's corner and David Kelly somehow forced the ball through Nixon.

Nixon clung on to Gavin Peacock's shot after the Newcastle player ran on to a return pass from Sheedy, but was thankful Kelly could not capitalise on Clark's excellent work and cross from the left. Too much of Tranmere's play led them nowhere and John Morrissey twice attempted to lob Pavel Srnicek from distance but also cleared the crossbar. A glaring miss by the substitute, Kenny Irons, and an 88th-minute goal by Lee completed Tranmere's wretched day. Lee tormented the retreating home defence before calmly sliding the ball in the far corner.

Tranmere Rovers: Nixon; Higgins, Brannan, Martindale, Mungall, Vickers, Morrissey, McNab (Hughes, 76), Malkin, Muir (Irons, 66), Nevin.

Newcastle United: Srnicek; Venison, Beresford, O'Brien, Scott (Kilcline h/t; Bracewell, 70), Howey, Lee, Peacock, Kelly, Clark, Sheedy.

Referee: M Peck (Kendal).