Bridges takes a tip from Shearer

Bobby Robson's rejuvenated side see their bubble burst by another striker from the North-east
Click to follow
The Independent Football

MICHAEL BRIDGES finally took note of an impromptu lesson in finishing from another north-east striker to seal victory in a match that would have been all over long before if he had taken his earlier opportunities.

MICHAEL BRIDGES finally took note of an impromptu lesson in finishing from another north-east striker to seal victory in a match that would have been all over long before if he had taken his earlier opportunities.

The recruit from Sunderland, with five goals before this game in an encouraging start to his Leeds career, was the main culprit as his side failed to turn their overwhelming first-half superiority into a match-winning lead.

He could have had four and should certainly have had a hat-trick, hitting the crossbar and putting two simpler chances wide as he found space at will but not the composure to take advantage of it.

The question mark hanging over the afternoon was just how false a dawn Newcastle's eight goals against Sheffield Wednesday the previous weekend would turn out to be. The answer suggested by the opening stages of this match was that it was about as counterfeit as it could be.

Leeds, with Erik Bakke making an impressive first appearance of the season in midfield, were slicing a ponderous Newcastle defence to shreds and Bridges had already had one effort saved by Steve Harper before they took the lead after only 10 minutes.

The lively young Norwegian Bakke was largely responsible, sliding a pass into the path of Lee Bowyer, who scooped his shot up and over Harper into the top corner of the net.

Harry Kewell and Alan Smith both had chances as Leeds ran rampant, but the best inevitably fell to Bridges, who missed the target after being set up beautifully by Smith. Six minutes before half-time, that seemed to matter less when David Batty's deep cross from the right bounced up perfectly to be despatched by Kewell's thunderous header.

If you can blow up a bubble on the strength of one win, however emphatic, Newcastle's was in the process of being burst. It was time for Alan Shearer to demonstrate that last week's five goals against Wednesday's token resistance did represent a real wakening of his predatory instincts.

Two minutes after Kewell's goal, he brought Newcastle back into the game with an equally unarguable header. Nigel Martyn became one of eight players booked after carrying the ball out of his penalty area, Nolberto Salano flighted in the free-kick and Shearer met it precisely as it begged to be met.

There was still time at the end of the half for Bridges to squander yet another invitation to join the party, with Smith again the provider.

The feeling was growing that there must be a price to pay for his profligacy and sure enough, nine minutes after the break, Shearer was the man to extract it. Didier Domi crossed from the right, Kieron Dyer, full of invention all afternoon, raised the boot to flick the ball away from Lucas Radebe and Shearer drilled it past Martyn.

If last Sunday's performance showed what the Bobby Robson rejuvenated Newcastle could do to sitting ducks, this seemed to be compelling evidence that they could also fight their way back from adversity.

For a time, their rekindled confidence made the visitors look the more likely side to snatch a win, but David O'Leary brought on the former Newcastle discard, Darren Huckerby, for Smith and almost immediately the ploy paid off.

Bowyer, who had kept driving Leeds forward even when their afternoon was showing worrying signs of going into reverse, picked out Huckerby on a left-wing run. He wasted no time in making an impact, squaring it for Bridges to finally get it right.

In a moment, Bridges had crossed the gorge that separates success from failure for a striker and his previous omissions were forgiven if not forgotten.

O'Leary still believes he needs to add an experienced striker to his squad if Leeds are to be a genuine threat this season. He will have seen nothing here to change his mind, because well as his young forwards blended together, the lack of a killer touch could have cost them dear.

O'Leary was quick to recognise this but was also full of praise for his young side: "No disrespect to Newcastle but we should have been four or five goals up by the break", he said.

"In the end we got out of jail. But I always thought we were going to win the game because the way we played, particularly in the first half, was superb. We played the way I want us to and it would have bean a crime if we hadn't taken the three points."

Robson, although disappointed, was full of praise for Shearer. "Alan again led by example. He has shown great leadership qualities and great movement and proved quite firmly that he is back on form."

With Temuri Ketsbaia joining the Newcastle injury list after sustaining ligament damage, Shearer will need to maintain his current form if Newcastle are to continue their recovery.

Half-time: 2-1

Attendance: 40,192