Football: Magpies home in on silver

Newcastle United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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The Independent Online
So now we know why Kenny Dalglish has been shooting down the harbingers of doom who have been circling above St James' Park of late. At long last the Magpies' nest is to be feathered by a valuable piece of silverware this season.

According to Uri Geller, the FA Cup will be heading back to Tyneside on the evening of 16 May - 43 years after it was deposited as the last major domestic prize to be displayed in the trophy cabinet that time forgot.

Then again, Mr Geller, celebrated spoon-bender and would-be Nostradamus, does not exactly boast a reliable record on the football front. Reading have not pulled up any trees at Elm Park, or anywhere else for that matter, since their psychic supporter put his special powers at their disposal.

It is just as well, then, that canny Kenny has performed a little hands- on therapy of his own. The gloom merchants who forecast Newcastle would only be half the team they were last season were right. But, with five debutants and a new wing-back formation, the new-look Newcastle were not half impressive.

As that wise Owl, David Pleat, observed: "It's very difficult when a team plays with flair like that against you. They were very fluid. Their movement gave us all sorts of problems."

From the first minute, when Faustino Asprilla flicked Philippe Albert's pass into Jon Dahl Tomasson's path with devastating deftness, the pattern was writ large in black and white.

Wednesday could simply not anticipate from whence the next threat might come. Albert, Steve Watson, Stuart Pearce and John Beresford were all auxiliary attackers. And while the quartet took it in turn to work from back to front, the new model Toon Army never lifted its guard.

Wednesday were unable to find a way through, and Newcastle simply could not legislate for the sublime improvisation Benito Carbone showed in finding a way over the home guard with a stunning scissors kick.

Such resilience will be required on Wednesday night when St James' Park hosts its first European Cup tie. Croatia Zagreb failed to score just once last season as they won their championship by a distance of 21 points.

Marko Milnavic, assistant to the Zagreb manager Marijan Vlak, was happy to see Alan Shearer plastered (in the non-alcoholic sense) and bench-bound as he took his seat in the Milburn Stand on Saturday. He was probably less than happy, though, to see the Shearer-less Newcastle in such rude health.

Asprilla was at his attacking best, plundering his first Premiership goal of the season after 98 seconds (it took him until 10 March last time) and adding a second for good measure. It was Temur Ketsbaia, though, who made the most marked impression on Milnavic.

The Georgian bald eagle was landed on a free transfer from AEK Athens - a glittering steal by any standards, let alone by Magpies with the glint of silver in their eyes.

Goals: Asprilla (2) 1-0; Carbone (8) 1-1; Asprilla (72) 2-1.

Newcastle United (5-3-1-1): Given; Watson, Pistone, Albert, Pearce, Beresford; Lee, Batty, Ketsbaia; Tomasson; Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Howey, Hughes, Pinas, Srnicek (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-1-1): Pressman; Blondeau, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Whittigham (Agogo, 77), Pembridge, Hyde (Collins, 58), Atherton; Carbone; Donaldson (Di Canio, 62). Substitutes not used: Humphreys, Clarke (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Newcastle: Batty. Wednesday: Hyde, Blondeau, Atherton.

Man of the match: Asprilla.

Attendance: 36,711.

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