Football: Pearce crowns remarkable return

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Newcastle United 2 Juventus 1

IT WOULD be premature in the extreme to suggest that Newcastle, mooted as founder members of the European Football League, might be in the same metaphorical league as the champions of Italy. It would be equally misleading, though, to underestimate the value of the win they gained against Juventus at St James' Park last night.

Newcastle, lest it be forgotten, had to win their last match at home to avoid second-class citizenship of English football. Such late-season desperation ought to be avoided in the campaign ahead if Dietmar Hamman and the other summer signings on display maintain such impressive form.

Neither the Magpies of Tyneside nor the Zebras of Turin showed their true colours, Juventus having forgotten to pack their black-and-white- striped shirts and Newcastle being contracted to give their new blue away kit a television airing. Juve left their leading World Cup lights at home too, Marcello Lippi claiming that Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Edgar Davids were all in need of extra training following their delayed summer breaks.

The disappointment among the Toon Army was tempered by the appearance of three recruits in their own team. With Lionel Perez in goal, Laurent Charvet in defence and Hamman in midfield, there was a new look to the Newcastle side, though there was a distinctly familiar appearance to the start they made.

In attempting to pass back to Perez from the kick off, Alessandro Pistone presented Juventus with their first chance, Marcelo Zalayeta, an impressive, imposing Uruguayan teenager, almost getting his name on the score sheet after 10 seconds. It was, however, merely a fleeting reminder of the bungling negativity that hallmarked Newcastle's 1997-98 campaign.

Old and new were blending encouragingly before Hamman hammered home a stunning first impression in the 25th minute. The gangling German was drifting some 30 yards from goal when he unleashed a right-foot drive that flew into the top right corner of Michelangelo Rampulla's net.

Hamman, a pounds 5.25m buy from Bayern Munich, was also involved in the second goal, prompting the set-piece move which led to Stuart Pearce despatching a left-foot grasscutter past Rampulla from the right edge of the Juventus box.

The fact that Pearce was on the pitch at all was remarkable, given his narrow escape from a potentially fatal car crash last week. But the Psycho therapy was evident as the defender celebrated the strike with a trademark clenched-fist salute.

It took the fists of the stretching Shay Given, a half-time replacement for Perez, to keep out a dipping right-wing free-kick by Daniel Fonseca as Juventus strove to regain some second-half pride. All they could muster, however, was an 88th-minute consolation, a fine curling effort by Jocelyn Blanchard.

Newcastle United (4-1-3-2): Perez (Given, h-t); Watson (Howey, 81), Charvet, Pearce, Pistone; Dabizas; Lee (Yoryadis, h-t), Hamann (Barnes, 60), Speed (Barton, 60); Andersson (Ketsbaia, 60), Shearer.

Juventus (4-3-1-2): Rampulla; Mirkovic (Perrotta, 65), Iuliano, Montero, Dimas (Birindelli, h-t); Tacchinardi, Blanchard, Conte (Di Livio, h-t); Pecchia (Fonseca, h-t); Del Piero (Pissotto, 65), Zalayeta.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).