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Football: Road to Euro 2000 - Dyer the flyer a breath of fresh air

Norman Fox watches Newcastle's rising star light up a nation
IT WAS not only Alan Shearer to whom Ruud Gullit had denied a first-team place at Newcastle. At the end of last season he told Stuart Pearce that he would never play for the club again. So the chances of Pearce and Shearer appearing together in in the same England side might have seemed as remote as George Graham in his new role as promoter of joyful football.

So there at Wembley yesterday were the 37-year-old "Psycho" Pearce and the allegedly over-the-hill Shearer reunited. And there, too, was the happiest man in the ground, the level-headed 20-year-old Kieron Dyer, playing right defender to Pearce's left. What a contrast. The ageing, match-hardened Pearce was winning his 77th cap, Dyer his first.

If Pearce had seen it all before and twice retired from international football, Dyer was not only new to it but playing out of position (though that was commonplace in Kevin Keegan's selection yesterday). Dyer said he was unconcerned about that since when at Ipswich Town before joining Newcastle he had played in every outfield position. Yesterday he played as if he could have filled any of them, and done it with speed, control and composure, albeit against a Luxembourg side about whom it was difficult to decide whether or not they would have given competition to a moderately competent non-League side.

Presumably the thinking behind Keegan choosing the pair of them was that neither would be placed under much pressure by Luxembourg, leaving them to act as wing-backs. All very well for the young limbs of Dyer, but what of Pearce? In the event, the West Ham def-ender generally held back with the unnecessarily pessimistic thought that Luxembourg would counter- attack, while Dyer sped forward with the optimism and confidence of youth.

Dyer's pace troubled Luxembourg from the outset but the space he was given was delicious. His 10th-minute taste of freedom going into their defence caused Marc Birsens to panic and bring him down for Shearer to succeed with the penalty. That simply emphasised that Steve McManaman, also on the right flank, was excess to needs.

So after 25 minutes, Keegan sensibly moved McManaman to the left, which relieved Pearce of any real need to match Dyer for speed and allowed McManaman to get into the penalty area with unusual success since he scored the third and fifth goals. Dyer, meanwhile, mesmerised two defenders to offer Shearer his hat-trick.

Dyer was such an immediate success that when he fell injured and needed treatment following that effort the mass groan from the crowd reflected their instant affection. If he was playing out of position he had already proved to be in a position to confirm his international potential. His return to the field was greeted as if he were a long-established favourite.

The half-time news that he was unable to continue, leaving Gary Neville to replace him, was deflating since it seemed that a new star had prematurely gone behind a cloud. At least he had been forced to quit while he was ahead and in the future he may well be thankful that his first chance to impress was against the weakest side at Wembley since Luxembourg themselves appeared at the same stadium in 1982 and lost 9-0, which ironically was the first home win in Bobby Robson's era as manager.

Yesterday he was guest of honour - a belated compliment from the Football Association who had so unforgivably bowed to media pressure and refused to renew his contract. Doubtless had he been at Newcastle last year rather than beginning his new career at St James' Park on Tuesday he would not have allowed Pearce's ability to be lost on the pretext of being, as Gullit said, "too old".

Nor was Pearce too decrepit to be moved into the centre of defence when Tony Adams was injured, or to revive memories of the past when he went marauding forward to drive in a thunderous shot. Though disallowed because Robbie Fowler was offside, his "goal" brought the crowd to their feet chanting "Psycho".

And, naturally enough, the old warrior had to live up to his name by having his name taken for winning the ball as an afterthought to ensuring that his opponent was never going to get it. As for Dyer, there can rarely have been a more exemplary debut among all of England's past and present.