Cordone in the comfort zone

FA Premiership: Biggest home crowd since 1976 see Newcastle win at a canter
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The Independent Football

Speed was of the essence at St James' Park yesterday. Donovan Bailey, the fastest man at the Atlanta Olympics, was one of 51,752 in attendance at Newcastle's new-look home ground, the biggest gathering in the Toon Army fortress for 24 years. And it was Gary Speed who scored the early goal that put Newcastle on track to a victory that proved to be comfortable once Daniel Cordone followed the Welshman's goalscoring lead 21 minutes into the second half.

Speed was of the essence at St James' Park yesterday. Donovan Bailey, the fastest man at the Atlanta Olympics, was one of 51,752 in attendance at Newcastle's new-look home ground, the biggest gathering in the Toon Army fortress for 24 years. And it was Gary Speed who scored the early goal that put Newcastle on track to a victory that proved to be comfortable once Daniel Cordone followed the Welshman's goalscoring lead 21 minutes into the second half.

Having appeared on the pitch at half-time waving a Newcastle scarf, Bailey presumably departed in celebratory mood. The Canadian is on Tyneside preparing to race at Gateshead tomorrow before defending his 100m crown in Sydney next month. He will be hoping to mount a stronger defence than his favourite English football team traditionally enjoy. On this occasion, though, Bobby Robson's team looked like their newly-extended home - built on firm foundations.

Sergei Rebrov would testify to that. Playing against Newcastle in the Champions' League in Kiev three years ago, it took him less than three minutes to get the ball past Shay Given. Yesterday, Tottenham's £11m acquisition hardly got a glimpse of Given's goal. That was due, in the main, to the solid central defending of Aaron Hughes, a player who cost Newcastle nothing.

"Aaron was a giant for us today," Robson said of the 20-year-old Northern Ireland international. "It was one of his best performances in a black-and-white shirt and I was delighted with our back four as a whole. I saw a solidness and strength in our back four that hitherto wasn't there."

Newcastle's central defensive deficiencies had been glaringly evident against Man- chester United last Sunday and Derby County on Wednesday, but Hughes and the Frenchman Alain Goma hardly put a foot wrong between them yesterday. The one notable exception was the eighth-minute scare Hughes caused by slicing the ball across the home goal in attempting to clear a Darren Anderton cross. And, within a minute of that aberration, the young defender had more than redeemedhimself.

It was Hughes' perceptive long ball that prompted the opening goal, putting Speed clear of the Tottenham defence. The Welsh captain had time to tee the ball on to his left foot before beating Neil Sullivan with a measured lob from the right apex of the penalty area. It was hardly Beckham territory for the aerially vulnerable Spurs goalkeeper, but 50,000 Geordie voices roared in admiration.

With Rob Lee, Carl Cort and Christian Bassedas among a long list of absentees, Newcastle were a good way from full strength on the first anniversary of Ruud Gullit's departure. Infused with confidence, though, they had Spurs on the back foot and came tantalisingly close to a second goal when Cordone's first-time ball from the right was whacked within a whisker of the far post by Speed.

Not that it was all one-way traffic. Indeed, Newcastle were fortunate to remain in front when Anderton skipped past Didier Domi on the right and flighted an angled shot over Given and on to the far post. To the relief of the Toon Army, the ball then bounced off Given and Hughes to safety. That apart, Spurs failed to threaten before the break as Rebrov, Steffen Iversen and Les Ferdinand - a replacement for the injured Norwegian - struggled to make a striking impression.

It was different at the other end, where only a goalmouth header by Sol Campbell prevented Alan Shearer from providing Newcastle with a two-goal half-time cushion. Spurs did mount one notable assault before the game was beyond them, Oyvind Leonhardsen rifling a left-footed volley against Given's right-hand post and Hughes clearing Steffen Freund's follow-up shot.

The close call, though, merely stung Newcastle into action. Shearer, seeking his 200th League goal, drew a fine reflex save from Sullivan then curled a free-kick inches wide. A second Newcastle goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived in the 66th minute. Shearer angled a pass to Nolberto Solano on the right byline and, while Sullivan was able to parry the Peruvian's shot, another of the South American Magpies was on hand to apply a goalscoring touch. Technically, Cordone, who swept the loose ball into the net from close range, is not even a Newcastle player. The Argentinan is merely on loan from Racing Club Buenos Aires until the end of the season - with a view to a permanent £2m move.

A sharp striking foil for Shearer yesterday, Cordone should have doubled his tally, but when Solano's chip shot reached him, via Sullivan's crossbar, the 26-year-old blasted the ball high and wide. Not that the bulk of St James' Park's biggest crowd since 1976 could have cared, judging by the volume of the cheer at the final whistle. It was loud enough to cause earache, though Cordone was already suffering from that.

Two gold rings soldered on to his ears were removed in a delicate, and presumably painful, operation before the game on the express instructions of the Football Association. "He's a lot lighter now that he's got rid of all that gold," Robson said. "He's also gained half a yard in pace." Which the Toon Army's Canadian member no doubt appreciated.

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