Dyer brings Robson's smile back

Southampton 0 Newcastle United 3
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The Independent Football

Sir Bobby Robson's dream of lifting a trophy while in charge of his beloved Newcastle United lives on following this embarrassingly easy victory over a totally inept Southampton.

The margin of the success was all the more surprising because both teams had come into this game on the back of some indifferent form. Southampton, who were fourth going into the Christmas programme, lost to Fulham and Arsenal and now find themselves in eighth place in the League.

Meanwhile, Newcastle drew at Charlton on Boxing Day before losing to Blackburn Rovers at St James' Park three days later. If the clubs' results were bad, the performances were truly awful, so both managers were desperate for a better showing in front of the live cameras last night.

There are no prizes for guessing who was happiest at the final whistle. Sir Bobby, who has remained dignified throughout the recent speculation about his future, could not hide his pleasure at this important win. He skipped away at the final whistle, shaking the hands of every one of his players.

Gordon Strachan was a lot less bubbly. His team have lost their way of late and he knows that they need to turn things around quickly if they are to avoid an uncomfortable Premiership run-in. Watching them last night, it was difficult to believe these were the same players who so impressed on their way to the Millennium Stadium last term.

Much of the talk before kick-off had centred around Alan Shearer's return to the club where he first made his name in the late Eighties and early Nineties, as well as his meeting with the man still widely tipped to replace him at international level, James Beattie. Whether the Southampton front-man will ever be quite good enough to lead the England attack remains to be seen, although judging by this display he still has a lot to learn from the old master.

Shearer was superb last night, leading from the front and epitomising the dynamism of the visitors. With four minutes gone, Laurent Robert launched a missile of a free-kick at goal from a good 35 yards out, and watched in agony as the ball sailed just inches wide of Antti Niemi's goal. Southampton tried to force their way into the game, with Kevin Phillips, in particular, looking dangerous in the opening 10 minutes. But Newcastle held firm. Their defence was expertly marshalled by Jonathan Woodgate, while Jermaine Jenas and Gary Speed dominated the midfield throughout.

Newcastle were in control, and it came as no surprise when they took the lead midway through the opening period. Aaron Hughes floated in a cross from the right wing, which the diminutive Nolberto Solano managed to nod on into the path of the onrushing Kieron Dyer. The England man made no mistake from eight yards, controlling the ball on his chest before firing past the diving Niemi.

Strachan rose from the bench to vent his frustration with his players, but Southampton could do nothing about their lack of drive. Newcastle sat back, dictated play and, seven minutes before the break, doubled their advantage. Beattie failed to clear a Newcastle corner and the ball fell to Robert. When he is up for the challenge, there is little that can stop the Frenchman's left foot, and that proved to be the case on this occasion as Niemi failed to block Robert's hammer-drive.

Not surprisingly, Southampton re-emerged far more hungry and determined. Unfortunately, they also re-emerged with the same finishing boots on. With 57 minutes on the clock, Jason Dodd got involved in a tangle with Olivier Bernard on the byline, allowing Phillips to cross at the far post. Beattie was there to apply the finish, but somehow managed to head over the bar even though he was totally unmarked two yards out. Six minutes later, Claus Lundekvam saw his point-blank header palmed away by Shay Given in what turned out to be the home side's last real opportunity.

Indeed, moments later, Dyer applied the coup de grâce as he collected a lovely lay-off from Shearer on the halfway line and then embarked on a mesmerising run at goal. When his slalom eventually ended, he was one-on-one with Niemi inside the Southampton area and made no mistake with his finish. One wonders whether there will be a better goal in this year's competition.

The contest was over, but there was still time for the late substitute, Lomana Lua Lua, to see his left-foot curler flash just wide of Niemi's upright at the death. Not that any of the travelling fans, including one rotund gentleman who watched the entire game without a top on, much cared. Say it quietly, but maybe, just maybe, Newcastle's long wait for some silverware could be nearing its end.

Southampton 0 Newcastle United 3
Dyer 24, 67, Robert 39

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 28,456

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