Lee upstages new recruits

FA Premiership: Favourites Newcastle open in style as Chelsea's newcomers fire blanks and Le Tissier's efforts are in vain
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The Independent Online
By Liam James

Newcastle United 3

Lee 7, Beardsley pen 82, Ferdinand 83

Coventry City 0

Attendance: 36,485

DAVID GINOLA'S public unveiling in black and white last month was delayed for 48 hours to allow Kevin Keegan's new recruit to fulfil a modelling assignment, parading down the catwalk at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on behalf of the Italian designer Nino Cerutti. Yesterday, the unlikely lad from San Tropez showed the kind of sparkling French polish which could put some longed-for silverware in St James' Park's cobwebbed trophy cabinet this season.

Keegan's legionnaire didn't quite deliver an all-conquering performance for the capacity 36,485 crowd. He made way for Ruel Fox in the 75th minute having spent much of his debut waiting for the ball to come to him wide on the left side of midfield. But the flashes of Gallic flair he produced had only one rival as the highlight of a Premiership opener which was more even than the score suggests.

Ginola had the best view in the house of that, seven minutes from time, as he sat alongside Keegan on the home bench. Les Ferdinand, having twice been denied by the legs of John Filan, finally beat the Coventry goalkeeper with an ambitious sweeping shot from wide on the right wing. It was a stunning debut goal by Keegan's pounds 6m man, but not quite as breathtaking as the Ginola-inspired one that got away after 62 minutes.

Ginola won possession deep in midfield, shook off two markers, delivered an exquisite pass to Keith Gillespie on the right wing and then smacked a stinging low drive which the keeper could only parry. Beardsley tapped home, but the referee Roger Dilkes ruled him offside. That though didn't stop the crowd gasping at Ginola's audacious skill.

It wasn't the only ingenious passage of play by Newcastle's "model" professional. When Ginola sidestepped three defenders and whipped a shot across the face of the Coventry goal as early as the sixth minute it brought Gordon Strachan, Ron Atkinson's lieutenant, to his feet with a mixture of alarm and admiration.

"To be honest," Keegan said, "I don't think we got the ball to David enough. When you've got a player with his talent it's up to us to get the best out of him."

It was Robert Lee, one of the old boys who had been expected to make way for Keegan's summer signings, who was the real architect of Newcastle's success. Lee opened the scoring with a looping header, from a Gillespie cross, in the eighth minute and his biting midfield play provided the home side with a lasting grip on the game.

Coventry, though, exposed Newcastle's soft underbelly early in the first half. Paul Telfer, on his debut, shot against the woodwork in the third minute and Dion Dublin forced a fine diving save from Shaka Hislop, while Peter Ndlovu and Telfer again both went close as Coventry threatened to draw level in the second half.

Newcastle's nerves were eventually settled by their captain Peter Beardsley, who was turned down by Ron Atkinson when he was on trial at Manchester United from Vancouver Whitecaps in 1981. He scored from the penalty spot in the 81st minute after one of his typical jinking penalty-box runs had been halted by Paul Williams.

At pounds 750,000, Williams was the most expensive new boy Atkinson had on display. The Coventry manager would probably swap all of his jewellery for the kind of spending money Keegan has at his disposal, but the assured manner in which Williams handled Ferdinand suggests he had unearthed a cut price gem.

"I'll be happy if we produce that level of play all season," Atkinson said. "We'll play worse than that and pick up points."

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