Magpies silence their critics

Southampton 0 Newcastle 3

Southampton 0 Newcastle 3

Freddy Shepherd demanded a Rolls-Royce performance from his misfiring Newcastle superstars – and he got one as last season’s FA Cup finalists were dumped out of the FA Cup.

United hit top gear at times but cruise control was good enough for much of this third-round tie as they racked up a 3-0 victory to pacify their chairman who had been angered by a disappointing first half of the season.

Kieron Dyer provided the impetus for Bobby Robson’s side, ending his 11-month goal drought with a 24th-minute strike and adding a quite stunning second after 66 minutes.

The makeshift striker collected Alan Shearer’s lay-off on the half-way line and hit the accelerator, showing a clean pair of heels to Claus Lundekvam and Michael Svensson and racing clear to thump the ball into the bottom corner.

The goals were the England man’s first since February last year – a barren spell spanning 31 games for the Tynesiders and five for his country.

In between Dyer’s double, Laurent Robert – the Frenchman who scored with two superb long-range shots against Tottenham last month – thundered home another drive six minutes before half-time.

So while United, whose return of two points from a possible nine over Christmas had sparked Shepherd’s outburst, started the New Year on a high, Saints began 2004 just as they ended 2003 – in defeat.

Gordon Strachan’s team proudly occupied fourth place after thumping south-coast rivals Portsmouth 3-0 on December 21. But they have lost all three games since – at Fulham, at home to Arsenal and against Robson’s rejuvenated side tonight.

The Saints seemed stuck in second gear, offering little genuine attacking threat in the competition they nearly won at the Millennium Stadium in May.

Dyer had started after his stomach complaint and centre-back Jonathan Woodgate returned from his hamstring problem. For the home side, forward Marian Pahars recovered from his thigh strain to start.

Saints’ former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips – jeered by Newcastle fans every time he touched the ball – was in the thick of the action early on.

He hooked one shot into Shay Given’s grasp and only just failed to control a tricky cross after a clever link-up between James Beattie and Jason Dodd on the right flank.

At the other end after 24 minutes, Nolberto Solano flicked on Aaron Hughes’ cross from the right and Dyer chested the ball down before dispatching a shot past Antti Niemi and into the back of the net.

Robert’s mis-hit bouncing volley ended up in the side-netting just after the half-hour, and Robson’s men were certainly on top and doubled their lead six minutes before the break.

Beattie only half-cleared after a goalmouth scramble and Robert returned the ball with interest, slamming his angled drive into the net via the arm of Saints keeper Antti Niemi to secure a 2-0 interval advantage.

The home side started the second half in more promising fashion. Beattie cut in from the right after 54 minutes but Woodgate raced across to poke the ball behind.

Danny Higginbotham met the resulting corner and sent a header flashing across the face of goal.

Referee Mike Dean waved away home penalty appeals after a wrestling match in the area involving Jason Dodd and Olivier Bernard.

But the ball squirted to Phillips, whose cross was nodded just over the top by Beattie.

Saints continued to press and Given reacted smartly to grasp Claus Lundekvam’s header from a corner on his goal-line.

But United grabbed a superb third goal with 66 minutes on the clock, effectively sealing their progress to the fourth round.

Shearer laid the ball off to Dyer on the halfway line and the England international sped goalwards, leaving Lundekvam and Svensson trailing in his wake and blasting a fine finish into the bottom corner with his left foot.

David Prutton sent a 20-yard drive wide as the dispirited Saints attempted to pull a goal back.

But it was United who came closer to scoring late on, with substitutes Hugo Viana and Lomana LuaLua both threatening.

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