Football: Newcastle marked at 10 out of 10

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United. 1

Tranmere Rovers. .0

SYMMETRY blended with success on another extraordinary afternoon at St James' Park yesterday. The 10th day of the 10th month brought United their 10th consecutive win of the season and stretched their unbeaten run to 18 games - a club record. Before a raucous crowd of 30,137, the First Division's highest this term, Kevin Keegan's side were simply too strong and full of attacking verve for Rovers, whose spell of nine matches without defeat was abruptly ended by David Kelly's eighth goal of the season.

Newcastle could have won by five or six, with Liam O'Brien, Lee Clark and Robert Lee all going close, but Tranmere held firm after Kelly's close-range header eight minutes before the break thanks largely to their ever-alert goalkeeper, Eric Nixon, who pulled off a series of fine saves.

The famous old ground was so packed that the police ordered the gates to be locked an hour before kick-off as long queues tailed away from the Gallowgate end. Such is their phenomenal success that the Tyneside club now expect the police to order that all future league games at St James' Park be all-ticket. The desire to view yesterday's proceedings was so strong that a brave half-dozen fans climbed up to a precarious perch on the roof of a nearby house.

It was worth it. Their team, full of skilful professionals who belong in the Premier League, sought to attack throughout a lively game. The Dubliner O'Brien, watched by Jack Charlton, the Republic of Ireland manager, had two good chances early on before Lee brought the best out of Nixon with a fierce shot which the tall goalkeeper did well to tip over.

With O'Brien, who was called up for the Republic's World Cup squad afterwards, and Clark pulling the strings, Newcastle were always in control. The goalmouth action was non-stop. Gavin Peacock saw one shot blocked in the 22nd minute, and his follow-up, a delightful chip, drifted on to the bar. Five minutes later Kelly was upended on the penalty spot by Steve Vickers, the Tranmere centre-half, but the referee waved play on.

Kelly did not have long to wait to make his mark. O'Brien darted into the box and clipped the ball across for Kelly to head home from close range. The roar could have been heard at Roker.

The traffic was not all one-way, Chris Malkin shooting straight at the exposed Tommy Wright and John Aldridge just failing to turn in Dave Martindale's cross-cum- shot, but Newcastle were well worth their record-breaking win.

'It's disappointing we didn't win by more,' Keegan said. 'Tranmere are a good team but we are a terrific footballing side. This club could be another Liverpool and dominate for the next 10 to 15 years because it is now being properly run and we have Premier League players. This side is certainly better than the one I played in when I was a player here.' Tranmere would not argue, such was Newcastle's superiority. Next weekend, United head down the road to Roker Park for what promises to be a classic encounter. Another day, another sell-out.

Newcastle United: T Wright; B Venison, J Beresford, L O'Brien, K Scott, S Howey, R Lee, G Peacock, D Kelly, L Clark, M Quinn. Subs not used: F Carr, M Stimson. Manager: K Keegan.

Tranmere Rovers: E Nixon; D Higgins, G Brannan, D Martindale (K Irons, 75 min), S Mungall, S Vickers, J Morrissey, J Aldridge, C Malkin (S Cooper, 85 min), N McNab, P Nevin. Manager: J King.

Referee: I Cruikshanks (Hartlepool).

Goal: Kelly (1-0, 37 min).