Tino hangs 'em high

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 1997, 12:00am

Newcastle fans have been putting their shirts on Kenny Dalglish this week after two breath-taking performances.

St James' Park was besieged by campers the night before Newcastle United's new away strip went on sale at the club shop and within 24 hours more than 4,000 members of the Toon Army were proudly parading the new uniform on the streets of Tyneside.

The reason, if one is ever needed by the fiercely-loyal Geordie support, is the tangible proof that Dalglish's ''total football concept'' works and that there can be life without Alan Shearer.

And the man adopting the temporary mantle as ''king'' of Tyneside is oft-maligned Faustino Asprilla.

The Colombian's two goals, one in each half, in the opening Premier League fixture against Sheffield Wednesday were enough to convince serious doubters that Dalglish had a plan and that it would work.

Asprilla, the bandy-legged bandido who is as similar to Shearer as chalk is to cheese, followed that performance up with a line-leading role which saw John Beresford score two goals against Croatia Zagreb to give the Magpies a 2-1 lead in the first leg of their European Cup preliminary tie.

Both matches featured the new wing-back formation which has lifted the Magpies to encouraging heights in their first two matches of the new season. Seven months into his second job as Kevin Keegan's replacement, Dalglish has made his mark.

Even if the treasured prize of Champions' League football were dashed from Newcastle's lips, though, Dalglish would still be left with a continental campaign to fight.

A place in the UEFA Cup would be no mean consolation prize, and a second chance for the Newcastle manager to test out his new-look Magpies in Europe.

They have certainly looked good in clipping both Sheffield Wednesday and Zagreb from re-structured wings.

Steve Watson and Beresford have been rampant overlapping wide-boys in a 5-3-2 formation fluent enough to utilise the auxiliary attacking talents of Stuart Pearce and Philippe Albert, too, but without slipping back into the cavalier defending mode of the Keegan days.

Much of the credit for that has been due to the third man alongside Albert and Pearce at the heart of the back-line. Alessandro Pistone, who captained the Italian under-21 team last season, could hardly be more aptly named. Against Wednesday, and again in the Zagreb match, the smooth functioning of the Newcastle defence was maintained by its very own Pistone-engine.

The GBP 4.3 million purchase from Internazionale has been the most impressive of the new parts with which Dalglish has overhauled the old Keegan model Newcastle. And the others - Shay Given, Pearce, Temur Ketsbaia and Jon Dahl Tomasson - have slotted in so efficiently it is difficult to see where the JCB that Dalglish acquired - John Clarence Barnes - might fit into the works.

All this, and no mention of Shearer, for whom that other Anfield old boy Ian Rush, has been signed as cover. Perhaps that has been the most profound measure of the promising start Newcastle have made. That, however, is all that it is. Just as two swallows doth not a summer make, two Magpie wins do not make a season.