Ferguson and Shearer give Newcastle a cutting edge

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The Independent Football

At the present rate of progress, Newcastle may well pass Leicester in the Premiership table early in the new century. Bottom with only one point from six games before Bobby Robson took over as manager from Ruud Gullit, they reached the nosebleed territory of 14th place after condemning Martin O'Neill's team to a fourth consecutive League defeat at Filbert Street yesterday.

At the present rate of progress, Newcastle may well pass Leicester in the Premiership table early in the new century. Bottom with only one point from six games before Bobby Robson took over as manager from Ruud Gullit, they reached the nosebleed territory of 14th place after condemning Martin O'Neill's team to a fourth consecutive League defeat at Filbert Street yesterday.

Newcastle's goals came from their twin towers, Duncan Ferguson and Alan Shearer, with Theo Zagorakis giving Leicester's injury-ravaged side a modicum of respectability late on. The enigmatic Scot, who scored twice on his debut following a £7m move from Everton but failed to add to his tally in the ensuing year, has now scored in three successive matches in the space of a week.

Shearer, too, is hitting the net with all his old consistency, his latest strike taking his haul to 18 this season and four in the same three games. Their partnership is a reflection of the confidence flooding through their ranks, with players such as Robert Lee and Alessandro Pistone, who did not figure in Gullit's plans, performing outstandingly.

"On that evidence, you can't really see us getting relegated, can you?" Robson asked rhetorically. "At one time we looked destined to go down. Now it's looking as if we could achieve a respectable position, though we're taking nothing for granted. I thought we could turn things around, but I didn't think we'd have as many points by now as we've actually got [23]."

O'Neill, speaking after Leicester's worst League sequence of his four years in charge, put a defiant gloss on events. "Despite all the changes we've had to make, I felt we created some great chances," he said. "I also thought we should definitely have had a penalty in the first few minutes, but I'm far from down in the dumps."

Newcastle never lived more dangerously than in the opening two minutes. First, Lee's misplaced pass was intercepted by Darren Eadie, whose drive was brilliantly parried by Steve Harper. Then Muzzy Izzet fell under Nikos Dabizas's challenge, but Paul Durkin waved aside appeals for a spot-kick.

Fully 25 minutes elapsed before the referee stopped play and even then only for handball by Gary Speed. By then Newcastle were ahead. Speed's slide-rule pass found Shearer in the inside-right channel. Despite being policed by Matt Elliott, the England captain drilled the ball across the six-yard area for Ferguson to stroke it home.

Leicester, whose casualty list already included Neil Lennon and Steve Guppy, soon lost Izzet to a calf strain that may keep him out for three weeks. It took another misdirected pass, by Marcelino to Zagorakis, to set up their next chance, for Emile Heskey in the 42nd minute, only for Harper to hurtle off his line and smother.

Shearer, jeered by the home supporters for his alleged kick at Lennon 18 months ago, silenced his detractors nine minutes after the break when he doubled Newcastle's lead. Nolberto Solano, perpetual motion on the right, dispossessed Stuart Campbell on the halfway line before releasing the perfect through pass. After rounding his former Blackburn colleague, Tim Flowers, Shearer scored with aplomb.

Flowers saved well from Solano following the game's best pass, by Lee, while Ferguson headed against an upright after Shearer had nodded Lee's centre into his path. Yet with eight minutes left, Zagorakis's free-kick beat Harper from 30 yards, while Heskey sent a free header straight at Harper two minutes from the end.

However, a draw would have flattered Leicester, who were indebted to Flowers for tipping Lee's 25-yard shot on to the bar in between their consolation and Heskey's wasteful miss.

Goals: Ferguson (21) 0-1; Shearer (54) 0-2; Zagorakis (83) 1-2.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Flowers; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart, Gilchrist; Savage, Izzet (Campbell, 33), Zagorakis, Eadie; Cottee (Thomas, 59), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Gunnlaugsson, Fenton, Arphexad (gk).

Newcastle United (3-4-1-2): Harper; Barton, Dabizas, Marcelino; Solano, Lee, Speed, Pistone; Gallacher; Shearer, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Ketsbaia, Glass, Hughes, Fumaca, Given (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Leicester: Taggart, Savage.

Man of the match: Lee.

Attendance: 21,225.

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