Souness restructures midfield to give Newcastle fresh heart

Newcastle United 2 - Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Football

While much attention has been focused on Newcastle United's new signings, it could be the players already at their manager Graeme Souness's disposal who can rescue their season.

It has been easy to forget during Souness's lacklustre first four months in charge that the core of this squad is the same as the one which, not so long ago, was being talked about as potential title challengers. Yet, with £9m of new defensive talent in Celestine Babayaro and Jean-Alain Boumsong watching from the stands, it was a trio from the side Sir Bobby Robson built who provided the foundation for Newcastle's first win in seven League games.

Lee Bowyer, Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas were, just as they had been during the slightly unfortunate 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in midweek, omnipresent in midfield against Birmingham. Having changed to a 4-3-3 formation against the reigning champions, Souness appears to have discovered a formation which brings the best out of his English threesome.

It is the ideal combination; Bowyer is the workhorse and tackler, Dyer is the quick and skilful runner, while Jenas has the long-range passing. The result was that Birmingham's midfield was so outclassed that the normally industrious Robbie Savage was utterly ineffective. As their manager, Steve Bruce, admitted: "They tore us to pieces in the first half. Nobody has bossed us like that this season."

Shola Ameobi, playing because Alan Shearer's comeback from a thigh injury was postponed due to a calf problem, gave Newcastle an early lead. The striker beat two defenders to head in Craig Bellamy's excellent cross from close range after the Welshman had danced around Olivier Tébily on the right.

Ameobi had the chances to extend the lead, but, set up superbly by Dyer, he somehow managed to miss the ball with the net unguarded, having earlier been denied a second by some excellent defending on the line by Kenny Cunningham.

Newcastle were still two-up before the break, though, Bowyer arriving late into the area to tuck in Laurent Robert's cross after Mario Melchiot had slipped on the wet turf.

"I should have had a hat-trick," said Bowyer, who shot weakly at Maik Taylor when also sent clear by Robert. "We missed a lot of chances again, but as a team, we defended very well.

"I don't think there is a midfield in this country with as much energy and dynamism as ours," he added. "We can get up and down all day and all three of us enjoy the new formation. It works well. We showed that against Arsenal. It's similar to the one used by Chelsea and I don't think Birmingham will be the last team to struggle."

The visitors did improve after the break and Emile Heskey, who is starting to justify Bruce's decision to sign him from Liverpool, pulled one back with an excellent finish from the edge of the area.

But Newcastle's often criticised defence stood firm to repel the fightback. Indeed, it was Dyer who came closest to another goal when his half-volley crashed against the bar.

Goals: Ameobi (6) 1-0; Bowyer (44) 2-0; Heskey (64) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-3-3): Given; Taylor, Hughes, Bramble, Bernard; Bowyer, Jenas, Dyer; Bellamy, (N'Zogbia, 75) Ameobi, Robert (Milner, 63). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), O'Brien, Ambrose.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham (Yorke, 85), Upson, Tébily (Gray, 25); Johnson, Savage, Carter, (Anderton, 63), Lazaridis; Morrison, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Clapham.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Newcastle Bernard; Birmingham City Savage, Heskey.

Man of the match: Dyer.

Attendance: 52,222.

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