Football: Newcastle apply the frighteners

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. .4

Chelsea. . . . . . 2

SOMEWHERE in St James' Park a man was seriously worried. What could he say? How do you deliver bad news in the gentlest and most tactful manner? You get the drift of the thoughts tormenting the Royal Antwerp scout.

True, he could couch his report on Wednesday's Uefa Cup opponents in terms of Newcastle weaknesses. Their defence, for example, creaked at times on Saturday and any suggestion that Andy Cole is infallible can safely be dispatched to the dustbin after he made a mess of a one-on-one situation with the Chelsea goalkeeper. The rest, however, should be read in Belgium only with the accompaniment of a stiff whisky and a bottle of aspirin.

How do you relate the brush with perfection that was Newcastle's and Cole's first goal, for example? There is a theory doing the rounds in football that if you push the prolific striker to the left his finishing reaches mortal proportions, although it might not be wise to mention it to Dimitri Kharin.

The Russian watched him pursue a pass from Barry Venison in the eighth minute and positioned himself accordingly for the logical outcome, a cross or a shot to the far post. What he received was a missile from Cole's supposed weaker foot that crashed just past his shoulder and into the top corner on the near side. A marksman with a rifle could not have pinpointed the target any better.

Glenn Hoddle, the Chelsea player-manager, wondered how his goalkeeper had been beaten at his near post but that was a curmudgeonly response to a thunderous strike. Surely Cole's own manager, Kevin Keegan, was nearer the point when he said: 'There have been around 250 goals scored by us since I arrived here and I can't remember a better one. It was a classic.'

Add to that another supreme piece of chance-taking, when he struck from Robert Lee's pass after 66 minutes, and the omission of Cole from the last England squad becomes more of a scandal by the match. Like the vast proportion of the football-watching public the Antwerp scout must have wondered what more the man must do to persuade Terry Venables. Isn't 59 goals in 62 games enough?

The questions perplexing Hoddle were how his team, which hitherto had a 100 per cent record, could play so well and yet be thoroughly thrashed and why Dennis Wise was sent off, allegedly for 'foul and abusive language'. The Sirens would have needed amplifiers to tempt sailors if they had been in competition with the Toon Army and Hoddle produced that as Exhibit A for the defence. 'Dennis is adamant he didn't swear,' he said, 'and anyway, no official was within 30 yards of him.'

As to the former mystery, Hoddle will not be the only manager perplexed by the speed and movement of Newcastle. After 19 goals and maximum points from five matches they are the closest thing to an unstoppable force in English football at the moment, and the prospect of the return of Peter Beardsley and Lee Clark is frightening to anyone not sworn to the black and white.

The last time they won their first five matches, in 1908, Newcastle were champions and it is going to take a very gifted team to stop them. That was probably in the Antwerp scout's report, too.

Goals: Cole (7) 1-0; Peacock (15) 1-1; Fox (21) 2-1; Furlong (27) 2-2; Lee (53) 3-2; Cole (66) 4-2.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hooper; Hottiger, D Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Watson, Venison, Lee, Sellars; Fox, Cole. Substitutes not used: Howey, Mathie, Burridge (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): Kharin; Clarke, Kjeldbjerg, Johnsen, Sinclair; Rocastle (Hoddle, 76), G Peacock, Spackman (Newton, 74), Wise; Furlong, Spencer. Substitute not used: Colgan (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).