Newcastle not finished article

Newcastle United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0
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The Independent Online
DERICK ALLSOP

Newcastle United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0

Another three points, yet further evidence that this Newcastle United might not be the finished championship article.

Kevin Keegan's pursuit of Faustino Asprilla has raised eyebrows and heckles, not least, apparently, among directors of his club. But the addition of quality, and the unpredictable, should enhance Newcastle's cause. Without the regular supplier of those ingredients, David Ginola, their football was persistent, rather than inspired, stereotyped and impotent.

Against a more enterprising team it might not have been enough. Newcastle did, however, have Les Ferdinand back in their side and his dolphin-like exhibition was enough to get the jump on Wednesday's stoic defence. Des Walker patrolled stubbornly and eventually Julian Watts got to grips with his task, but by then the damage had been done.

A mighty leap by Ferdinand won a hopeful punt forward and Steve Nicol was harried into conceding a corner. Keith Gillespie took it, Philippe Albert headed on and Ferdinand, instinctively positioning himself, applied the final header. Ferdinand gave Newcastle the dimension Mark Bright was incapable of giving Wednesday and therein lay an essential difference.

Bringing in Ferdinand and Gillespie for Andy Cole has proved excellent business by Keegan. It was Ferdinand's 24th goal of the season and his 100th in League football. A less likely goal by Lee Clark deep in stoppage time confirmed Newcastle's unblemished home record and served to provide a more accurate gauge of Wednesday's inferiority. A player of Asprilla's calibre may have spared Keegan and his team the protracted uncertainty.

Keegan's aspirations and Wednesday's timidity reflect the class distinction within the Premier League. David Pleat, the Wednesday manager, maintained he urged his players to venture from their lair or accept the inevitable, yet acknowledged he went to St James' Park without the ammunition and, consequently, without the expectation.

That is a somewhat strange and disappointing attitude for a man who was prepared to take the game to Manchester United at Old Trafford two months ago and earned a hugely deserved point.

But then he perhaps considers his team are now too close to the relegation catchment area for such boldness, and he is patently content to play out the rest of the season and regroup for more positive business next autumn.

Goals: Ferdinand (54) 1-0; Clark (90) 2-0.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Barton, Howey, Albert, Beresford; Watson, Lee, Clark, Gillespie (Kitson, 69); Ferdinand, Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Brayson, Elliott.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-1-3-2): Pressman; Atherton, Watts, Walker, Nolan; Nicol; Degryse, Whittingham, Waddle; Bright, Hirst (Kovacevic, 28). Substitutes not used: Hyde, Platts.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Newcastle: Gillespie. Sheffield Wednesday: Whittingham, Bright.

Man of the match: Ferdinand. Attendance: 36,567.

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