Coventry City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
AN ANDY COLE hat-trick last night cleared away the clouds of concern that have been gathering at Gallowgate during Newcastle's recent dismal spell and pushed his team up into third position in the Premiership.
Forced to field an untried defence, with an average age of 20, by injuries to Steve Howey and John Beresford and the suspension of Barry Venison, United were visibly lifted by the return to the side of their free-scoring striker. Significantly, United's poor form coincided with the absence of Cole who injured his shoulder in the Cup defeat at Luton. 'He was not more than 60 per cent fit,' Kevin Keegan said, 'but what was fantastic was that he wanted to play. Each time he scored I asked him if he wanted to come off.'
On a freezing night it was Cole's ability to lose his marker, Phil Babb, which caused frissons in the Coventry defence throughout the first half. Three times he came close as he gradually forged a link with Ruel Fox, who made a promising home debut after his pounds 2.25m transfer from Norwich.
But Coventry repelled the blast and six minutes before the interval almost snatched a goal out of nothing when Peter Ndlovu drove in an 18-yarder which Pavel Srnicek tipped acrobatically over the bar.
Indeed it was Newcastle's goalkeeper who made their opener five minutes into the second half. The Czech's huge clearance downfield was missed by Peter Atherton and Cole accelerated past him to lift the ball neatly over Steve Ogrizovic for his 31st goal of the season. In the 71st minute it was that man Cole again who was on hand, perfectly positioned, to slot in his second, following in on Fox's fierce drive which Ogrizovic could not hold. Eight minutes later, after a jinking run by Peter Beardsley, Cole completed his hat-trick with a low shot into the far corner.
It was left for Alex Mathie to complete the rout three minutes from time. The Newcastle substitute, who had replaced Scott Sellars only 30 seconds earlier, still had the presence of mind to fasten on to Beardsley's through ball and fire in No 4.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Neilson, Appleby, Elliott; Fox, Lee (Robinson, h/t), Clark, Sellars (Mathie, 86); Cole, Beardsley. Substitute not used: Hooper (gk).
Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Burrows, Atherton, Babb (Busst, h/t), Morgan; Rennie, Darby, Jenkinson, Flynn (Robertson, 69); Ndlovu, Williams. Substitute not used: Gould (gk).
Referee: R Hart (Darlington).Reuse content