Coventry City 0 Newcastle United 1
Newcastle United yesterday struggled to their first Premiership victory away from St James' Park for three months, courtesy of a bad mistake by John Salako and the opportunism of Steve Watson. Despite increasing their lead to nine points at the top of the table, the Geordie faithful will know their side has to raise their game over the coming weeks to make sure of the title.
After a week in which Kevin Keegan's team wobbled to the brink of FA Cup ignominy before being knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup by Arsenal, Newcastle could have been forgiven for regarding a game at Coventry as a welcome opportunity to rediscover their form.
Although the West Midlands side are already engaged in their annual relegation struggle, Newcastle will have been wary of their recent form, especially at Highfield Road, where last month the current champions, Blackburn, suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat and the FA Cup holders, Everton, also fell by the wayside.
Ron Atkinson, the Coventry manager, resisted the temptation to restore Brian Borrows at right-back after two months out with hamstring problems. The task of trying to contain David Ginola instead fell to Ally Pickering.
The Frenchman's first touch was greeted by a predictable chorus of boos from the home supporters, but after Pickering was comprehensively beaten twice in the first three minutes, it was clear Ginola's dismissal at Highbury had not dampened his spirits.
The first clear chance fell to Warren Barton from Peter Beardsley's cross, but the full-back's header was aimed straight at Steve Ogrizovic in the Coventry goal. After nine minutes, however, Coventry might have gone ahead.
Philippe Albert was guilty of a poor clearance on the Coventry right. Paul Telfer picked up the loose ball and found Salako unmarked 10 yards out. His shot was true enough, but Pavel Srnicek parried and the rebound was scrambled to safety.
Dion Dublin and Noel Whelan continued to cause problems for the Newcastle back four, but it was the speed and enthusiasm of Beardsley, combined with Les Ferdinand's adroit flicks and Ginola's constant supply of crosses from the left which was a far more potent attacking force.
Ironically, it was from just about the worst ball Ginola played in the entire first half that Newcastle took the lead. A pass that was intended for the head of Watson looked easy for Salako to intercept, but the former Crystal Palace winger got into a terrible tangle and left Watson free to run at a defenceless Ogrizovic and slide the ball past him.
Chances in the second half were at a premium, although the entertainment was none the poorer for it. On the hour, Dublin and Paul Williams engaged in some role reversal, the former played a glorious long pass into Williams's path, but his cross was well gathered by Srnicek. Kevin Richardson then played Whelan through, and his cross was cut out by a desperate lunge from Darren Peacock. From the resultant corner, Barton headed clear under pressure from David Busst.
At the other end, Beardsley miskicked after a bad error by Busst had left him with a clear shooting chance. Pickering was somewhat harshly booked for an innocuous foul on Ginola, but in this case there was an obvious principle involved and the referee was swift to offer Ginola the protection he felt he was denied against Arsenal.
A chance for Les Ferdinand was the catalyst for a furious finale, Ogrizovic spreading himself to smother the England striker's shot. Atkinson threw on Peter Ndlovu nine minutes from time and he produced two bewildering runs, both of which unfortunately ended with tame shots. The game ended, perhaps appropriately, with the ball at Ginola's feet. Keegan will be hoping those same feet stay firmly on the ground during what looks likely to be an extended examination of his temperament.
Goal: Watson (44) 0-1.
Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Pickering, Busst, Shaw, Hall; Telfer (Ndlovu, 81), Richardson, Williams, Salako; Dublin, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Borrows, Filan (gk).
Newcastle United (4-3-3): Srnicek; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Watson, Lee, Clark; Beardsley, Ferdinand, Ginola. Substitutes not used: Elliott, Holland, Kitson.
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough). Booking: Coventry Pickering.
Man of the match: Beardsley. Attendance: 20,547.Reuse content