Two-goal Shearer sharpens Gullitine

Coventry City 1 Whelan 4 Newcastle United 5 Dabizas 14, Shearer 42, 90, Speed 43, Glass 58 Attendance: 22,656
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The Independent Online
A NEWCASTLE team that, as their new manager, Ruud Gullit, said, "played with a smile on their faces", again benefited yesterday from the often less-than-humorous Alan Shearer's return to scoring form. His two goals - one a typical predator's late header, the other gained in controversial circumstances - made a total of five in three games for him while Newcastle have scored 11, also in three.

Gullit was particularly pleased, as Newcastle had played a European game only two days before. "It showed me the kind of football I want," he said. "When I came, there was not a lot of confidence. But now it's exciting to see the players smiling and helping each other." If ever there was a biting sideswipe at the dour days of Kenny Dalglish, that was it.

Coventry did not capitulate, just fell away. Having avoided their previously familiar flirtation with the perils of relegation last season, their almost immediate appearance at the cellar end of the Premiership this time has come as a blow, especially after Dion Dublin had inspired them to such an optimistic victory over Chelsea last month. Poor performances after that had led Gordon Strachan, their manager, to tell his team to stop charging into the attack and play a more considered game.

So much for the advice - they charged into a fourth-minute lead that was a misleading prelude. Barry Quinn, in his first match, had played a thoughtful pass down the left side to Paul Hall, from whose centre Newcastle conceded a corner which Quinn took himself. Noel Whelan and Shearer got to the heading opportunity at the same time. Shearer tried to clear and the ball flew off the pair of them past Shay Given.

That ignited the game. Dublin, without the benefit of his usual strike partner, Darren Huckerby, still temporarily troubled Newcastle wherever he went, while Hall acted as the provider. For a while Newcastle were easily distracted in midfield and unsettled in defence. Yet after 14 minutes they regained the situation when Nikolaos Dabizas headed in from Nolberto Solano's corner.

Despite gaining parity, Newcastle still found it difficult to establish prolonged possession. Indeed, Shearer had to rely on counter-attacking, while George Boateng might have regained the lead for Coventry when his searing 35-yard shot had to be knuckled aside by Given.

When, in the 42nd minute, Shearer eventually gained possession within a short sprint of goal, his dispatching of his marker, Jean-Guy Wallemme, seemed, as Gullit said later, more of an example of his strength than anything illegal. But it drew quick and vehement protests from Coventry players and the nearest section of the crowd, who accused Shearer of elbowing. Either way, Wallemme was in no position to stop Shearer brushing the protests and the challenge aside to shoot in strongly.

Within three minutes Coventry were even more aggrieved at finding themselves 3-1 down. It was far from justice, on a measure of initiative and goal chances. But they were badly caught out when Steve Watson's cross was not intercepted, leaving Solano's substitute, Gary Speed, to head a quick and effective goal.

As Keith Gillespie began to make better use of space on the right edge, Newcastle began to look something like value for their lead, although a fourth goal was a shade generous, let alone a fifth. But in the 58th minute Wallemme got his retaliation in first, trying to tackle Shearer before the ball arrived. It ran past both of them and on to Stephen Glass, who had only Magnus Hedman to negotiate with a shot well driven beyond the goalkeeper.

Inevitably, Newcastle tightened their grip on a welcome win. Even so, they can hardly become too optimistic since this Coventry side was wanting the spirit that has so often made up for the lack of funds needed to challenge the high-fliers.

On the other hand, Newcastle had to be given credit for controlling Dublin, while Coventry could never feel comfortable with the inconsistent but occasionally fearsome threat of Shearer, who sealed his performance by heading down a corner, seeing Hedman save but fully aware of the opportunity to head in the rebound. Back to his old tricks.