Manchester United 5 Newcastle United 1
CAN IT get much worse for Newcastle United? Without a manager and level bottom of the Premiership, they were toyed with by Manchester United yesterday and were so close to humiliation the difference was negligible.
The man who inflicted the damage, almost inevitably, was Andy Cole. On Tyneside they still name the day Cole was sold in January 1995 as the moment the Newcastle dream began to turn sour and yesterday the pounds 7m man scored four times to rub further salt in those gaping wounds. Maybe Ruud Gullit, who resigned as manager on Saturday, was right to get out before the going got really bad at St James' Park.
United's supremacy was such that when Ryan Giggs got the fifth he looked almost embarrassed and his celebration was cursory at best. Long before then the team in red were treating the match like an exhibition of party tricks and, yes, David Beckham even tried to score from the halfway line.
Whether the outcome would have been different if Nikolaos Dabizas had not been sent off just after half-time is open to conjecture, but as the home side had just gone 2-1 up and carried the air of a team who could score whenever they wanted, you can make your own assumptions. Manchester were supreme, Newcastle wretched, and not long ago there was a hair's breadth between them.
Steve Clarke, Newcastle's caretaker-manager, said the dismissal had been the turning point. "For 45 minutes we had proved we can match the best," he said. "I don't want to comment on the sending off, I've only been in charge for one match and I don't want to get in trouble with the FA."
Clarke, who might be looking for a new job soon, showed the good sense to pick a team at which no criticism could be levelled. That meant a strike force of Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson and even an appearance and squad number for Rob Lee. It was the team the fans had demanded, which just shows how much they know.
From the start United of Manchester had a casual arrogance about them that suggested they did not expect to be beaten. The ball pinged from red shirt to red shirt and Newcastle had looked about to be pierced half- a-dozen times before the ricochet passing bore fruit after 13 minutes.
Beckham swept the ball in from the right, Cole flicked the ball to Paul Scholes and span around to meet the return pass in a split second. The Newcastle defence had been ripped to shreds and although there was just a hint of a mis-kick, he got enough purchase on it to chip it over Tommy Wright.
Sit back for the rout, we all assumed, and we were right, although it did not arrive without a hiccup in the Mancunian dominance. Raimond van der Gouw saved well to thwart Kieron Dyer after 24 minutes but did not have a hope six minutes later when Dyer's cross from the right was met by Henning Berg, whose attempted clearance rocketed into his own net.
The home response was expected, although Newcastle reached the interval without further damage thanks to the profligacy of Paul Scholes, who missed from close range with a 42nd-minute diving header. Moments later, Scholes had the ball in the net but Dwight Yorke had handled in the build-up.
If Sir Alex Ferguson gave his team a rocket at half-time for wasting chances, he got an instant result because his team had taken the lead within 40 seconds of the restart. Cole won a tussle with Dabizas for Scholes' long ball and then rounded Wright. Dabizas claimed a foul that television evidence did not back up and compounded his error by complaining so vigorously to Jeff Winter that the referee had little option but to send him off.
With 11 men Newcastle had been straining to keep level, with 10 they had no chance, and they were ripped apart by attacks mainly stemming from Beckham. Chance after chance was spurned from the right flank, so it was ironic that Cole's third arrived from the opposite wing, Giggs curling a lovely pass behind the Newcastle defence. One touch took the striker beyond his markers and the next beat Wright.
Six minutes later, it was 4-1, and arguably the best goal of the game. Gary Neville raced down the right and then pulled the ball back. Cole turned sharply and thumped the ball into the net.
Newcastle's devastation was complete with 10 minutes left when Cole passed to Giggs and although his first effort was blocked, his flick easily beat Wright's desperate dive.
The visitors' supporters had every right to be cowed into silence but instead they continued to bray their defiance and the game finished to the refrain of "Newcastle, Newcastle" echoing round Old Trafford. They deserve better.
Manchester United: Van Der Gouw; G Neville (Clegg, 81), Stam, Berg, P Neville; Beckham (Sheringham, 75), Butt, Scholes (Fortune, 70), Giggs; Cole, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Culkin, Cruyff.
Newcastle United: Wright; Barton, Goma, Dabizas, Hughes; Dyer, Lee (McClen, 70), Speed, Solano (Beharall, 75); Shearer, Ferguson (Robinson, 79). Substitutes not used: Harper, Maric.
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).
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