Football: Wright exploits Pearce's dismissal

Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 3 Wright 56, 90, Sinclai r 76 Attendance: 36,744
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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE'S winning ways at home were derailed by the ugly sending- off of an old war horse and destroyed by the killer finishing of a master marksman.

After a scoreless first half, Stuart Pearce had the final word in a long- running feud with Trevor Sinclair. He pole-axed him on the half-way line, his elbow apparently aimed at the Hammer's head. Graham Poll sent Pearce off and so created the space for Ian Wright to exploit, scoring twice and having a third cleared athletically off the line.

"He's 35 years of age and what an example for anyone," enthused Harry Redknapp about his striker whose birthday is on Tuesday. "He and Vialli are the best in the country at running off the ball. He was magnificent."

Ruud Gullit, though, concentrated on a disallowed goal and dismissed penalty decisions as well as the dismissal. "We weren't beaten by a better team," he said at the end of his three-game winning run at home. "The game was influenced by the referee and not by the players. I hope I am being polite in saying that."

Controversy seemed far away in an attractive, entertaining first 30 minutes. Paul Dalglish started it in the second minute, nipping in front of Ian Pearce, hurdling the big defender's leg but pulling his shot just wide. Wright had a glimmer of an opening when Sinclair's pass grazed Nikolaos Dabizas's head.

For Alan Shearer the glimmer was a little brighter when, free between Pearce and Rio Ferdinand, he failed to bring down Nolberto Solano's cross. Then came a clear opening, but Neil Ruddock's header was cleared off the line by Andy Griffin.

Ten minutes gone and Solano was spraying passes around in a style not seen in these parts since David Ginola. In the 15th minute, Solano's delicate dink cleared Ruddock and fell for Dalglish. Unfortunately the young Scot's touch took him wide but his cross did at least result in a corner.

West Ham replied with Wright slitting open Newcastle with a through ball to, of all people, Pearce. However, the defender's shot smacked into Shay Given's face and stayed out.

On the half-hour the controversy began. Solano's huge corner was met by Shearer's powering header, but Shearer had climbed on a defender and the goal was disallowed. The controversy deepened as the half drew to a close, with Dalglish having two penalty appeals turned down. The first, against Ruddock, was hugely implausible; the second, against Andrew Impey, highly probable.

"They're a fantastic crowd here and scream for penalties, but the referee was strong and didn't buckle," said Redknapp.

Graham Poll made himself even more unpopular with the partisan Geordies, after just two minutes of the second half, when he sent off Pearce, who had been snapping with Sinclair since a silly touchline altercation early on.

Gullit immediately took off an attacking midfielder, Stephen Glass, and replaced him with a defender, Alessandro Pistone, as if a point were his purpose.

But this plan lay in tatters eight minutes later. Wright picked up a loose ball just inside the Newcastle half and without challenge ran to the edge of the Newcastle area. Still without opposition, he transferred the ball to his right foot and slammed it across Given and into the net.

Newcastle had half-chances to equalise with a swivel shot from Shearer and a long lob from Solano, but the clearest opening fell to West Ham and Sinclair, who skipped on to Wright's pass and wriggled around Given, but allowed Griffen to clear off the line. Sinclair made no mistake two minutes later, however, with Newcastle again surprisingly reluctant to challenge he exchanged passes with Paul Kitson, took the return and scored.

Despite a flurry of further substitutions which saw Dalglish leave the pitch to a standing ovation, Newcastle offered nothing. Shearer, subdued and shut out by Ferdinand all game, took an ugly swipe at Ruddock's kneecaps on the byline - a situation Ruddock did well to brush off as the referee whistled heatedly.

Wright rubbed salt into Newcastle's largely self-inflicted wounds in injury time. He had just seen his deft chip brilliantly kicked to safety by Pistone, when the ball again fell to him on the edge of the area. This time he took on the Italian, left him lying on the floor and sealed a comprehensive victory.