Football / Premier League: Clark's talent keeps tradition alive

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Newcastle United. . .3

Portsmouth. . . . . .1

IT WAS Young Eagle v Bald Eagle and there was never any doubt as to who would have their feathers clipped. On the day he was named the North-east's Barclays Young Eagle of the Month, Lee Clark, the carefree epitome of Newcastle renaissance, showed Pompey's Jim Smith, his former manager, that he has grown from prospect to product.

Many a footballer blessed with the power and spirit to entertain has driven through those old iron gates at St James' Park on match days. The legends are legion: from Gallacher and Milburn to Waddle and Gascoigne. These departed heroes, who bewitched between Gallowgate and Leazes, are lauded in the club museum, but their tradition is kept alive on the field by Clark, playing football as it should be played, with skill and a smile.

Kevin Keegan called his 19-year-old midfielder 'potentially world class' on hearing of his Barclays accolade, but the precocious teenager was used sparingly by the new United manager last season, when mature scrappers were needed to keep the club up.

Clark demanded he start this season and his form since, with three goals in eight games to take Newcastle top of the First Division, has justified his self-belief and Keegan's gamble. 'He was outstanding,' Keegan said after Clark had created two goals and run Pompey's experienced midfield and defence ragged.

Like any Geordie prodigy, Clark is burdened with the 'new Gazza' millstone. The swagger is similar, as are the buccaneering runs and a tendency to dive in rather than jockey an opponent, but Clark is not as outrageously gifted as the Lazio virtuoso. Nor as outrageous. When Chris Burns decided to upend the upstart who was causing them so much trouble, Clark just picked himself up and walked away. 'It's a helluva privilege to be named in the same breath as Paul Gascoigne,' he said, 'but I want the fans to remember me as Lee Clark.'

They will: he has the talent to match his temperament. United's first, in a pulverising performance against Pompey, evolved from Clark's left-sided link-up with Kevin Sheedy in the 17th minute. A simple 1-2, built on Sheedy's precision and his side-kick's enthusiasm, released the coltish Clark down the flank. His cross was perfect: rising for Mick Quinn to beat Alan Knight with a firm header.

Newcastle's second, rapturously received by the weekend's second biggest crowd in Britain, again owed much to Clark's confidence. Four minutes from the break, Clark deceived Alan McLoughlin and moved the ball quickly to Quinn on the edge of the area. Quinn touched the ball on for David Kelly to finish emphatically, with a strong shot across Knight.

Newcastle could have had five or six, but for offside, the woodwork and Knight. One Liam O'Brien drive flew just over and through the door of a loo at the Leazes end. The third goal engineered by John Beresford and Franz Carr, was swept in by Quinn before the prolific Guy Whittingham gave Pompey something to share with their fans on the rail journey home.

England's Spanish trip produced onions and tears, but in Burgos there was hope: a midfield of Clark, Chris Bart-Williams and Ray Parlour helping the Under-21s to victory over the Olympic champions. All are now Young Eagles of the Month, and some day will be ready to fly upwards.

Goals: Quinn (16) 1-0; Kelly (41) 2-0; Quinn (77) 3-0; Whittingham (85) 3-1.

Newcastle United: Wright; Venison, Beresford, O'Brien, Scott, Howey, Carr, Quinn, Kelly (Thompson, 83), Clark, Sheedy. Substitute not used: Kilcline.

Portsmouth: Knight; Awford, Daniel, McLoughlin, Symons, Doling (Murray, h/t), Neill, Kuhl, Powell (Clarke, h/t), Whittingham, Burns.

Referee: P Wright (Northwich).