Football: Newcastle steel ready for European fire

Newcastle United 1 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online

Newcastle United 1 Aston Villa 0

The last English team to be crowned kings of Europe were obliged to test their sovereign mettle in the kind of fiery foreign parts Kenny Dalglish and his pretenders will enter on Wednesday night.

The Newcastle United manager will probably be reminding his likely lads of that before they line up in Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium. Liverpool's 1984 European Cup coronation would never have taken place had they not survived an evening in the Basque cauldron of the San Mames Stadium.

Dalglish was in the Liverpool team which ventured there as supposed second- round fall guys after a goal-less first leg at Anfield. So was Ian Rush. He headed the goal that silenced San Mames and broke Athletic Bilbao.

There will be no Rush job in Zagreb, the veteran poacher having signed on Dalglish's dotted line too late to qualify for the latest round of European ties. Unlike Liverpool on that distant Spanish night, however, Newcastle will have a lead to protect.

They will need that 2-1 advantage on the evidence Croatia Zagreb and their creative spark Silvio Maric (a Maric made in heaven, it seems) provided at St James' Park two weeks ago. They are likely to need something more, too: the kind of steel which blunted Aston Villa.

It augured well that Messrs Hansen and Lawrenson, rearguard rocks in that Bilbao battle and reunited as Uncle Des' left-hand men in the Match of the Day studio, should point to redoubtable defending in the home ranks as the highlight of the Saturday matinee at St James'.

Dwight Yorke missed from sitter distance and Stan Collymore dropped wide a long range effort but Shay Given only had one save of note to make in 90 minutes, more than a third of which Newcastle played with a numerical disadvantage, following David Batty's dismissal.

Where not so long ago Philippe Albert looked a lost cavalier, at the heart of the Newcastle defence, there are now two not so much roundheads as truly rounded players blending him into a promisingly proficient new back line.

Like Albert, a Champions' League campaigner in his Anderlecht days, they both have top level European experience too. Alessandro Pistone was a Uefa Cup finalist with Internazionale last season and, while Stuart Pearce had limited Continental club exposure with Nottingham Forest, he has of course played for his country in the European Championship semi-finals.

With Faustino Asprilla having arrived too late from World Cup duty in his native Columbia, John Beresford continued in his new-found role of Magpie marksman, shooting his third goal in two games. It was the central defensive trio, though, which anchored Newcastle to victory.

Their new stability has yet to be put to the test away from St James' Park, but the signs on Saturday were certainly encouraging.

Goal: Beresford (12) 1-0.

Newcastle United (3-5-1-1): Given; Pistone, Albert, Pearce; Watson, Gillespie, Batty, Lee, Beresford; Ketsbaia (Barton, 53); Rush (Tomasson, 84). Substitutes not used: Howey, Elliott, Hislop (gk).

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, Southgate, Scimeca (Nelson, 69) Staunton (Wright, 69); Taylor, Draper, Grayson (Joachim, 69); Yorke, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Milosevic, Oakes (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Sending-off: Newcastle: Batty. Bookings: Newcastle: Batty, Ketsbaia, Albert. Villa: Ehiogu, Collymore, Southgate.

Man of the match: Pistone.

Attendance: 36,783.