Football: Rio lays claim to France

Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 1 Lazaridis 16 Attendanc e: 36,736
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The Independent Online
THE promising prospect, Rio Ferdinand, snuffed out the acknowledged master, Alan Shearer, before the eyes of the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, and a bolt from the blue destroyed the expensively laid plans of the Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish.

After a pounds 10m 10-day spending spree, Newcastle gave home debuts to three players - including the pounds 5.6m buy from Everton Gary Speed - but, as they have all season, they lacked the imagination or invention to turn possession into points.

It started promisingly for them, though. In the 12th minute Robert Lee scooped a delightful ball to meet the intelligent run of Speed and his quick, low cross was fired over by Shearer.

But then out of nowhere West Ham took the lead. Stan Lazaridis, playing at left-back, stepped forward and struck from 35 yards. The ball flew over Shay Given and flew into the top right-hand corner of the net, leaving Dalglish to wonder whether the extra inches of Shaka Hislop, who was dropped after 18 consecutive appearances and an England B call-up because of a contract dispute, might have come closer.

With Ferdinand nullifying Shearer and producing two first-half, precise long passes to John Hartson into the bargain, it was left to Andreas Andersson to try to penetrate the deep-lying Londoners. The Swede, strong and possessing a remarkably sharp turn, set Keith Gillespie racing down his wing with a first-time ball in the 21st minute. But, as the Irishman neared the area, the trailing John Moncur sent him tumbling, earning a booking.

In the 29th minute, Andersson led Ian Pearce a merry dance first one way across the pitch and then the other. Eventually he eluded the giant defender's despairing tackle and from the edge of the area rolled his shot past Craig Forrest. It crept on to the post and Andy Impey thumped clear. Bar a wide, standing header from Shearer, it was as close as Newcastle came, although Andersson didn't help his cause when, on the stroke of half-time, he capitalised on Ferdinand's one mistake, reached the byline but inexplicably fluffed his attempted pull-back.

While Newcastle left the pitch ruing their failure to create chances, West Ham left it ruing Paul Kitson's failure to convert the clearest of openings in the 44th minute. Tim Breacker's clearance fell to Trevor Sinclair on the right wing. With Stuart Pearce blowing hard on his heels Sinclair slipped in Kitson but the man Newcastle sold for pounds 2.3m a year ago couldn't beat Given who came dashing off his line.

Long on possession, short on ideas, Newcastle spent the second half encamped in West Ham territory. But they created just one chance which Speed poked wide amid a flurry of feet in the 64th minute. Ferdinand's timing and ability to out-jump Shearer, coupled with Ian Pearce's physical presence, allowed no other openings.

"There is no one harder to play against than Shearer, but Ferdinand is a different class," enthused the West Ham manager Harry Redknapp. "I would take him with me anywhere." Glenn Hoddle should - to France.

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