Lee fuels Newcastle title drive

Football: Premiership leaders reveal more impressive qualities by overcoming difficulties to earn a significant triumph
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The Independent Online

Newcastle United 2 Leeds United 1

The mood of patience was set even as you entered St James' Park. On the roof of a petrol station where a number of protesters were sitting, a banner "Get the Shell out of Nigeria" hung provocatively. Their demeanour suggested they intended to linger.

Inside there were also a group determined to make their point. Leeds, bristling with stubborn intent, had staked a claim on Newcastle's property and were not going to be prised off it easily. Nor, according to their leader, should they have been.

Howard Wilkinson had a face afterwards that suggested a few of his charges had faced an explosion. The Leeds manager looked, in short, like he would like to get the hell out of Nigeria, Newcastle and a few other places besides. Anywhere where he could forget what he had seen.

"Disappointing," he murmured, "very, very disappointing. In the first half we played well but in the second we put the game at risk. The front three lost the ball too easily and the ball kept coming back at us. You can't let a team play in your own half for as long as we were doing.

"The second Newcastle goal was just sheer recklessness. Tony Yeboah lost the ball on the half-way line with a dribble and suddenly we're losing. At 1-1 we had a result."

It was the suddenness of Leeds' surrender that shocked. After 70 minutes they were a goal ahead thanks to a scorching 31st-minute header from Brian Deane and looked to be comfortably containing a Newcastle side who were becoming exasperated. A minute later and they were losing 2-1.

That was due largely to Robert Lee who Kevin Keegan described as the best midfield player in Britain. "He was a corporal in the army when he arrived here," the Newcastle manager," said, "now he's a general." The officer he had in mind was probably Sherman because Lee had the vulnerability of a tank.

Collecting the ball on the half-way line he surged forward, swept Tony Dorigo out of his path and thumped a low shot to John Lukic's right. "Somebody wrote recently that Lee is not good enough for England," Keegan snorted. "Ask the Leeds players who has impressed them today and they'll say Rob Lee."

Les Ferdinand might have got a mention too because he had a mighty game considering he was slowed by an injury. His height and frame allowed him to win the ball nevertheless and it was one of the prodigious leaps that led to Newcastle's second goal, his header rebounding from Lukic's save and Peter Beardsley sliding the ball in.

The result left Keegan's voice strained but his satisfaction blooming. "This will send a shudder round the country. People will say ooh they've come through that one. That was a tough one. We came up against a side who were playing well, a mega-match for us," he said.

It alsoleft Newcastle with a six-point lead in the Premiership after a run of games in which they met several of their rivals. "November will go down as the month of character," he said. " I've learnt something about my team that you can't get on the training ground and that is they've got real character. Even when they haven't been playing well they haven't half worked hard,'' he said.

Goals: Deane (30) 0-1; Lee (70) 1-1; Beardsley (71) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Gillespie, Lee, Clark, Ginola; Beardsley, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Watson, Albert, Sellars.

Leeds United (4-3-3): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Dorigo (Bowman, 89); McAllister, Ford (Brolin, 81), Palmer; Speed, Yeboah, Deane. Substitute not used: Whelan.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).