Newcastle find flair to do it by numbers

Newcastle United 3 West Ham United 1
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The Independent Football

It was all there again in black and white at St James' Park yesterday. Last week, it was Newcastle's 5,000th home goal, Alan Shearer's 200th Premiership strike and the 100th goal of the season for Bobby Robson's side. Yesterday, the Magpies drew their two millionth spectator of the season and Shearer broke new ground again with his first goal for Newcastle against West Ham. They also bade farewell to St James' for the summer with an ultimately comfortable victory.

Robson's black-and-white minstrels have become the statisticians' dream team, but they remain the Premiership's foremost entertainers. They did not disappoint here, as the Toon Army celebrated their team's success in securing a place in the final qualifying round for next season's Champions' League. After going a goal behind, it took Newcastle 41 minutes to rise to the occasion, but then Shearer equalised and goals by Lomana LuaLua and Laurent Robert after the interval had the punters partying until long after the final whistle.

"It's been a great finale to a great season," Robson said, after completing a post-match lap of honour with his players and backroom staff. "We could have been 4-1 down at half-time, but in the second-half we gave a vintage Newcastle performance. We played some poetic football."

It happens to be a statistical fact that Robson's side are twice as potent in the second-halves of Premiership games than in the opening periods, with a goalscoring split which stands at 25-48 this season. Even so, the natives were getting a little restless by the time the Magpies mounted their first attack, with 23 minutes on the clock. It came to nought, as Gary Speed miskicked wide of the target from a range of six yards, and by then Newcastle were already chasing the game.

West Ham threatened to exploit the lack of urgency in the home ranks three times before they actually scored – Shay Given brilliantly parried a Jermain Defoe drive, Michael Carrick shot wide from 20 yards and Frédéric Kanouté contrived to head off target from six yards. The latter opportunity was a glaring miss but Kanouté atoned for it the 20th minute, when his headed flick teed up Defoe, who rifled an angled shot past Given from the right side of the Newcastle box.

It could have been worse before it got better for Newcastle, as Steve Lomas missed another clear chance for the Hammers. But then, four minutes before the break, Shearer got his first sniff of goal. Played through the middle by Robert, the Newcastle captain smacked a right-foot shot over the diving David James for his 118th goal as a Newcastle player, drawing level with Peter Beardsley as the club's fifth-highest goalscorer of all time.

It was Robert's 101st shot of the season – his 60th on target – that prompted Newcastle's second goal, eight minutes into the second half. The Frenchman's stinging effort was stopped with a brilliant diving save by James, but the England keeper could only palm the ball out to LuaLua, who duly drilled it into the West Ham net. It was the Congolese striker's third goal in four games. For the gymnastic record, he restricted his celebration to a single somersault on this occasion.

Newcastle were into their customary second-half overdrive. The chances came thick and fast and their third goal arrived in the 66th minute, when Robert flicked a left-foot shot against a post but scrambled the rebound past James. There was even a party piece from the Newcastle manager as his team coasted home, when Shearer sliced the ball into the dug-out and Robson trapped it with the aplomb of an England World Cup veteran. The managerial marvel was in fine form in the press room, too. Upon being congratulated for his season's work, Robson quipped: "I'm going to ask for a rise... don't write that. The chairman will have a heart attack."

Newcastle United 3 West Ham United 1
Shearer 41, LuaLua 53, Robert 66, Defoe 20

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 52,127

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