Football: Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 2 - Cole inspir ed by return to his old haunts

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The Independent Online
IT IS a pity Manchester United could not have contrived to play Internazionale at St James' Park instead of the San Siro on Wednesday night. At Newcastle's ground, they could have expected to score at least one priceless away goal.

In the 45 games he played there as a plundering Magpie, Andy Cole claimed 47 goals. In the three matches he has played there as a Red Devil, he has stabbed in a further three.

The Toon Army were not strictly accurate when they paraphrased Anfield's old Ian Rush ditty to proclaim that every time Cole got the ball he scored a goal. But they were not far wide of the mark either.

On average, every time the lightning-quick poacher has got a game at St James' he has scored a goal. From the moment he struck on his first appearance there, turning to crack a right-foot shot past Notts County's Steve Cherry at the Gallowgate End six years ago, Cole has been carrying goals to Newcastle with a productive vengeance.

His 49th was delivered after 25 minutes on Saturday, with a predatory pounce and a first-time shot from close-range after Dwight Yorke flicked on a Henning Berg header while the statuesque Laurent Charvet waited in vain for help.

His 50th, in 48 St James' Park appearances, was an equally swift Cole strike: a burst from the blocks to beat Charvet to a clipped Ryan Giggs cross and a side-footed finish to beat Shay Given.

With that second goalscoring flash, six minutes into the second half, Newcastle were effectively beaten and Cole and his colleagues were preparing to head off on their Inter mission with their four-point lead intact at the top of the Premiership.

It is unlikely to be so easy for them in Milan, though they did have to overcome a spirited early challenge from Ruud Gullit's resurgent Newcastle side, as well as a one-goal deficit, Nolberto Solano having adeptly curled a 16th minute free-kick in off Peter Schmeichel's left-hand post from 25 yards.

Ultimately, however, Alex Ferguson's treble-shooters won with such ease Raimond van der Gouw did not have a save to make as a second-half replacement for the flu-hit Schmeichel. But the great Dane will be back to guard his team's 2-0 advantage in the San Siro.

"I think they will get through on Wednesday," Gullit, twice a European Cup winner with Milan, predicted, "but it's going to be hard. It's going to be hostile for them in Milan. Maybe the fans won't let them sleep the night before."

And maybe Mircea Lucescu will be the one having less than quaranta winks. The Internazionale coach already has much on his mind from the first leg of the European Cup quarter-final - Yorke's heading, David Beckham's crossing, Jaap Stam's defending, Schmeichel's keeping - and his spies will now have added Cole's razor-sharp finishing to the list.

"Andy was lightning today," Ferguson enthused. "He's getting better all the time. It's been important that he and Dwight have teamed up really well."

They have scored 47 goals this season and, "Playing with Dwight has done a lot for me," Cole acknowledged. "It's the kind of partnership I've been looking for ever since I played here with Peter Beardsley."

It was Kevin Keegan who ended that equally successful union. Can England's caretaker still afford to be without such a precious commodity?

Goals: Solano (16) 1-0; Cole (25) 1-1; Cole (51) 1-2.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Barton (Maric, 82), Charvet, Dabizas, Domi; Solano, Hamann, Speed, Georgiadis (Lee, h-t); Ketsbaia (Saha, 61), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Griffin, Harper (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel (Van der Gouw, h-t); G Neville, Stam, Berg, Irwin; Beckham, Scholes (P Neville, 86), Keane, Giggs (Johnsen, 74); Yorke, Cole. Substitutes not used: Solskjaer, Blomqvist.

Bookings: Newcastle United: Georgiadis; Manchester United: Irwin.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 36,776.