Football: Shearer sharpens Gullit's dreamy vision

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 1 Newcastle United 5

IF, DESPITE all that has been said to the contrary, Ruud Gullit does end up selling Alan Shearer, he had better use the money wisely, because days like Saturday will be hard to replicate without him. Until the England captain took a very firm hand, this game was heading for a draw at best for the Geordies. Coventry were certainly stripped naked, but, in terms of the football being "sexy", the Full Monty had more going for it.

"Lucky" was the word that came more to mind than "sexy", even if Gullit's original selection was daring to the point of being risque. I cannot imagine for one moment that his old coach at Chelsea, Graham Rix, would have agreed with him taking the field with not one, not two, but three players who were essentially wingers. It was reminiscent of his final few days at Stamford Bridge, when it was alleged that he had lost the plot.

At least he recognised his mistake and withdrew the Peruvian, Nolberto Solano, who he had deployed in central midfield, in favour of Gary Speed, who clearly knows the position rather better. Not that Gullit was about to admit his blunder afterwards, describing it in coachspeak as "a tactical switch", which conveniently explains away everything, including cock-ups.

But one has to agree with Gullit that the team is now playing with a lot more confidence, and, one has to say, a greater freedom than it did during those introverted times under the cautious Kenny Dalglish. And for that Newcastle, indeed football, should be truly grateful. The strange thing was that, to all intents, Shearer again found himself playing alone up front, so inept was the performance of his co-striker Stephane Guivarc'h, who, given a second chance to impress Gullit, failed lamentably. It was almost as if the coach was trying to tell him something when, late in the game, he substituted him with the son of the man who bought him - Paul Dalglish.

Aime Jacquet and Kenny Dalglish must have seen something in the player, but, if Shearer is to stay, Gullit could be struggling if he hopes to use Guivarc'h to finance a deal or two - World Cup winner or not. Nor was he the only Frenchman who found it hard to keep up with Shearer on Saturday. Coventry's central defender, Jean-Guy Wallemme, suffered terribly at his hands, literally so in the 42nd minute when Shearer, in typically brusque manner, shoved him out of the way to fire Newcastle ahead, at 2-1.

Up until then, Gordon Strachan maintained, only one team was likely to win the game - Coventry. It was a bit more equal than that, the game careering wildly out of control from one end of the field to the other. The Coventry manager said he sensed it wasn't going to be his day when the electricity failed at home, although it was a while before the lights went out for the Sky Blues.

Two minutes after Shearer's first, in the 44th minute, with Wallemme still clearly all shook up, Speed rose above him to head a third roughly in the same position that Nikolaos Dabizas had been when heading the equaliser to Coventry's opening fourth-minute strike. Noel Whelan, who is on police bail after a fracas at a party which left him incapacitated for three games, was certainly free to do as he wished in the Newcastle penalty area when heading home Barry Quinn's corner.

Once Shearer had struck, though, "sexy" Newcastle were like a team on Viagra, so potent were they. Wallemme went for a spot of revenge on the striker in the second half and succeeded only in knocking the ball free for Stephen Glass to score and then, in injury time, Shearer followed up his own header to complete the rout. "I'm still in shock," said Strachan afterwards. If the truth be known, so was Gullit.

Goals : Whelan (4) 1-0; Dabizas (14) 1-1; Shearer (42) 1-2; Speed (44) 1-3; Glass (58) 1-4; Shearer (90) 1-5.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Edworthy, Wallemme, Breen, Burrows; Quinn, Haworth, Boateng, Hall (Shilton, 61); Dublin, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Williams, Shaw, Soltvedt, Ogrizovic (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Dabizas, Pearce; Gillespie (Barton, 70), Solano (Speed, 20), Lee, Glass; Shearer, Guivarc'h (Dalglish, 86). Substitutes not used: Albert, Perez (gk).

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Coventry: Dublin, Wallemme. Man of the match: Shearer.

Attendance: 22,656.