Prolific Lee seals the perfect 10

Newcastle United 3 Lee 11, 74, Ginola 26 Nottingham Forest 1 Woan 14 Attendance: 36,531
Click to follow
The Independent Online
MAYBE it was no accident that black and white ribbons were attached to the Premiership trophy when it appeared on the Fantasy Football League show on Friday night. The prospect of a first title for Newcastle United since the sepia days of Hughie Gallacher in 1927 shifted further from fantasy to the realms of reality as Kevin Keegan's team brushed aside the threat posed to their proud 100 per cent home record by Nottingham Forest.

Two goals by Robert Lee, and David Ginola's first at St James' Park, gave Newcastle their 10th win in 10 Premiership games on home ground this season and had their supporters chanting, "Now you're going to believe us: we're gonna win the League". Even Alex Ferguson could now be among those beyond Tyneside giving credence to such a scenario. If his Manchester United side lose at Leeds today Newcastle will have a 10-point lead to take to Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

A video of the game may worry the Manchester United manager as much as the black and white of the Premiership table. In overcoming a Forest side previously beaten just once in the league since February, Newcastle displayed the burgeoning hand of aces they have in their title-seeking pack.

As Frank Clark, the Forest manager who spent 13 years as a Newcastle player, remarked: "Their strength is having so few weaknesses. If they steer clear of injuries they can win the title. They've only reached the halfway stage but they've got a very good chance."

Ominously for their rivals, Newcastle showed new strengths yesterday. They switched their formation and their personnel during the course of the game, but maintained pressure on the Forest defence throughout.

With Philippe Albert starting his first League match since Boxing Day last year, Keegan alternated between a 3-4-3 and 4-4-2 formation in the first half. He also gave Ginola and Peter Beardsley one half each in a central attacking role alongside Les Ferdinand. Ginola sparkled both up front and in his more familiar position, wide on the left side of midfield. His goal was stunning too, a curling right-foot shot from 25 yards, which gave Newcastle a 2-1 lead after 25 minutes.

Lee had put them ahead with a shot from similar distance after 11 minutes and then Ian Woan wove his way through the Newcastle defence before trundling the equaliser past Pavel Srnicek three minutes later.

Jason Lee struck the crossbar five minutes after the break, but Forest were forced increasingly on to the back foot as Beardsley and Ginola wrought havoc every time they stepped forward with the ball at their feet.

The Forest bar denied Beardsley his 100th goal in league football and the legs of Mark Crossley rescued the visitors when Ginola put Ferdinand clear through the middle. But Newcastle maintained their unblemished home record when Robert Lee fashioned and finished another goal of the month contender 15 minutes from time - clipping the ball over Crossley after playing a neat wall-pass with Ferdinand.

"We probably deserved to win 3-1," Keegan said, "although it was tough getting there. I think I gave the lads a few problems myself by asking them to play a different way. It's a nice to be 10 points clear at the halfway stage in the season, but there's still a long, long way to go."

Newcastle kick off the second half of their campaign at the home of their closest chasers but Keegan departed with a smile on his face. "Oh! Is that where we're playing on Wednesday?" he asked.