Shearer douses the fire

Leeds United 0 Newcastle United 1 Shearer 59 Attendance: 36,070
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The Independent Online
SINCE George Graham returned to the job of being a football manager, he has insisted that it is much better than being unemployed. Undoubtedly so, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of anything else which his tenure so far at Leeds might have going for it. In three matches they have yet to win and their defeat yesterday was also marred by the sending off, in an unsavoury first half, of the Leeds centre-back Carlton Palmer.

Newcastle were far from their attractive, assertive peak - the way in which the opposition closed them down did not allow it - and Leeds' revival for much of the final quarter might have earned them a point. But the overall attitude of the Leeds performance left substantial questions about why Graham missed the game so much if this is the way he imagines it is best played.

It took 25 seconds for David Wetherall to be shown a yellow card when he dashed into a late tackle on Peter Beardsley near the halfway line. Often, referees can set the tone for a match, but Paul Alcock had no other option open to him. Not that it deterred Leeds. In their quest to be, as the professionals say, first to the ball, they were also first to the man.

Graham said later that the referee had an extremely poor first half, implying, at least, that he was over-zealous. Maybe so, but presumably over-zealousness in a player therefore is to be condoned. Newcastle were upset by what confronted them. David Ginola, their French winger, was especially prone to show his reluctance for the fray. Small wonder, perhaps, that there was a certain contrariness in his caution for diving.

Faustino Asprilla, while not entirely comfortable in his forward partnership with Alan Shearer (Les Ferdinand was out with the flu), still exhibited the sort of delicately unexpected touches which were Newcastle's best hope of severing the shackles in the first half. His adept pass to David Batty from the edge of the penalty area saw the midfielder's shot swerve just wide. A few minutes later, in a counter-attack, the Colombian ignored the advancing attentions of three defenders and put the ball square to Shearer with a dismissive touch. It was just short of the requisite pace.

Asprilla, however, could not ignore Palmer's attentions in the 35th minute, which led to the centre-half's first booking. Four minutes later Palmer was sent off after a second caution following his tackle on Shearer from behind. Graham lamented this, actually using the phrase "It's a man's game".

Kevin Keegan, at least, had spotted that the referee had set out his stall early and tackles from behind were to be punished - about which there is something or other in Fifa's guidelines to referees. Graham's stall was out too, and he is not one to take it in again.

It is true that the second half was less a sea of yellow than the first, but perhaps not only the referee's approach had changed. Newcastle took the lead in the 58th minute. Robert Lee received the ball from Beardsley and threaded a pass through to Shearer, who was making space in the area to Lee's left. Shearer's stride took him to the ball and the execution was orthodox. It was Shearer's fourth goal, his first in open play for Newcastle and his 10th in 11 games at Elland Road.

With 10 men there should have been no way back for Leeds. And there wasn't, but this was not connected to a lack of spirit. Graham will no doubt rectify matters, if not overnight. Do not expect it to be pretty.

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