Watson delivers the sting

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 2

Ferdinand 2, Watson 89

Liverpool 1

Rush 10

Attendance: 36,547

RIDICULOUS, quite ridiculous. For the first time this season Newcastle United encountered opponents with championship potential of their own and for the first time it seemed they would drop home points after being outpassed and outplayed by a classy Liverpool team. Indeed, the prospect of dropping only two points appeared fortuitous.

Then in the game's dying embers, Steve Watson lit up St James' Park by turning home a winning goal after Robert Lee, who epitomised Newcastle's tenacity in clinging on, had sent in a low shot which David James could not hold.

"They gave us a real lesson," the ever candid Kevin Keegan admitted. "But my players never let their heads go down. Some were having nightmares but if you keep hanging in there and don't go hiding you can get a result on bad days."

This may be the difference between this Newcastle team and the one which flattered to deceive a year ago. This, after all, is the home of the Likely Lads, though they would do well not to be fooled by an unlikely result.

The Liver boys seemed so composed - with John Barnes the composer - until the home crowd let out its final roar and they appeared to tire. Jamie Redknapp was the perfect passing partner for Barnes and the dainty dribbling of Steve McManaman eclipsed the largely anonymous David Ginola. At times, you expected Newcastle to ask if they could have their ball back, please, mister.

"It's a cruel world," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manger, said. "Last week we scored 13 goals in three games, this week in two games we haven't scored though we've played some good football."

The England coach, Terry Venables, was in attendance in advance of announcing his squad on Tuesday for the match against Switzerland at Wembley the following week. Indeed it was the start of a busy weekend for him as he is due to fly to Italy today to watch Paul Ince play for Internazionale.

Yesterday there were a dozen potential members of his selection on view, six from each side if one included the Liverpool duo of Mark Wright and Robbie Fowler, at opposite ends of their careers but both in form. The evidence of the two was not especially encouraging, however. Wright, now 32, rarely emerged from the defence to join in passing movements, as Venables needs, though he scarcely had cause to. The precocious 20-year-old Fowler, meanwhile, was chief culprit in the missing of chances.

It was another striker vying for the favours of Venables, Les Ferdinand, who got what was to be another rousing St James' occasion off to the bang with which it was also to finish. After McManaman had lost the ball in midfield to Lee, John Beresford sent in a cross from the left which was headed out only as far as Keith Gillespie. His mishit shot turned into the perfect cross for Ferdinand who slid the ball home at the far post for his 17th goal of the season.

Liverpool might have been level four minutes later when McManaman sent Fowler clear, Shaka Hislop turning the shot aside though a goalkick was given. In another four they were. Barnes sprayed the ball wide to the left for Steve Harkness and his cross was only helped on by the Newcastle defence to McManaman, who atoned for his earlier carelessness by promptly drilling it back into the goalmouth where Ian Rush was waiting to pounce and turn the ball home.

Stirred, Newcastle now enjoyed a period of the sort that has seen many visiting sides fold in this now magnificent, cacophonous arena. It saw Lee force an excellent one-handed save from James and Ferdinand almost turn home after James had dropped Lee's cross.

This Liverpool, though, is not one to be overwhelmed; more likely to overwhelm others. At the start of the second half, McManaman's deflected shot looped up and Hislop arched back to push it on to a post, Rush being thwarted by Beresford as he tried to turn home the rebound.

It prompted an impressive, dominant spell. Wright headed Barnes's cross just wide, the substitute Stan Collymore just failed to turn home Fowler's cross and when Collymore returned the favour, Fowler shot into the side netting after taking the ball too wide of Hislop. Surely a winning goal would come. It did, but not to the sublime and thus were we left with the ridiculous.