Lee Clark and Rob Lee relive Newcastle United's glory days as 'The Entertainers' celebrate key anniversary
The first half of Newcastle United’s first ever Premier League season has seen Kevin Keegan’s side establish themselves in the top half of the table.
A Magpies side containing attacking talent like Scott Sellers, Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole had also been dubbed as ‘The Entertainers’ after notable wins over the likes of Spurs, Liverpool and Everton.
But they had ended 1993 on a low as a below-par performance saw them fall to a 1-0 away defeat at against a woeful Chelsea side.
Despite that narrow loss, they still remained in the top five of the table as they eased back into life amongst English football’s elite.
Manchester City were St James Park’s first foot on New Years Day and a Cole brace helped the Magpies put their Stamford Bridge reverse behind them in clinical fashion.
The upward turn in form continued as Beardsley and Cole grabbed a goal apiece to give United a 2-1 away win against a Norwich City side that had shone in the UEFA Cup with a shock win at Bayern Munich.
The dynamic duo were on target in an FA Cup Third Round win against Coventry City as they established themselves as one of the Premier League’s most-feared strike partnerships.
Former United midfielder Lee Clark described Cole and Beardsley as “the perfect mix” and believes that they remain one of the club’s best-ever partnerships.
“They were huge for us,” explained the Geordie.
“Andy was the dynamic striker and he loved playing off the shoulder of the last defender.
“Then when you have someone like Peter, that could thread passes into him all day, they were the perfect mix.
“Andy didn’t even have to tell Peter where he wanted it, he just made the run and Peter found him.
“Other teams couldn’t handle them, and it was because of the way we played the game.
“The team suited Andy because we always created chances and, to be fair to him, he put them away nine times out of ten.”
Clark found the target in United’s next impressive win in front of the Sky cameras at QPR, but it was Cole and Beardsley that stole the limelight again to fire their side to all three points.
Clark’s early strike had been cancelled out by an equaliser from Rangers forward Garry Penrice.
Both sides created chances to snatch a win but it was United’s front pairing that combined to seal the points.
A neat one-two between Cole and Beardsley saw the latter race on to a chipped pass from his strike-partner before volleying the ball past Rangers keeper Tony Roberts.
That win sparked something of a slump from Keegan’s side as they were beaten at home by a Matt Le Tissier inspired Southampton and suffered away defeats against Wimbledon and title challengers Blackburn Rovers.
The Magpies were also the victims of an FA Cup giantkilling as John Hartson and Stefan Oakes scored to help Luton Town come out on top with a 2-0 win in a fourth round replay at Kenilworth Road.
Midway through that run, Keegan delved into the transfer market to sign Norwich City winger Ruel Fox in a club record deal worth £2.25million.
The signing would signal a change of position for Rob Lee and it also sparked speculation that the United star wanted a return to London.
“I had started as a right-sided winger, but I preferred a more central role,” explained the former Charlton Athletic player.
“But the way we played when I first came in, we integrated really well and we would all play different positions at times anyway.
“But when Ruel Fox came in, I think Kevin had decided that he wanted me more in the game and he moved me into the middle.
“People in the press were saying I was homesick and wanted to go back to London, but that was rubbish.
“I managed to move into midfield with Lee (Clark) and it just clicked.”
United’s form improved as a Cole hat-trick inspired them to a 4-0 win against Coventry City and the striker followed that up with a late winner at Sheffield Wednesday.
Keegan’s side were unrelenting and Swindon Town – a side promoted alongside the Magpies just 10 months earlier – were put to the sword at St James Park.
Remarkably, Cole didn’t find the net in a 7-1 win, but braces from Fox’s first for the club and braces Lee, Beardsley and Steve Watson saw their side destroy a Swindon side that would go on to be relegated.
The game provided some relief for Lee, who was yet to find the net in a Premier League game, despite being a regular goalscorer during United’s Division One title triumph.
“It very much a relief,” admitted the man that would receive his first England cap during the following season.
“When you aren’t scoring as a midfielder, you feel that you aren’t contributing.
“You want to score goals for your own self-belief and when you get one, it breeds confidence.
“I was happy we were winning, but it was a relief to get off the mark.”
Keegan moved into the transfer market once again and showed his ambition by breaking the club’s transfer record for the third time in a year with the £2.7million signing of QPR defender Darren Peacock.
United were ready for an unexpected assault on a European place and they showed their class as Lee and Cole scored in a 2-0 win on a poignant day at Liverpool.
Anfield provided the emotional backdrop as the Reds remembered the 96 lives that had been lost at Hillsborough on the fifth anniversary of one of English football’s darkest days.
The Magpies had a strong contingent of former Liverpool favourites and they played their part in paying their respects.
All of the talk quickly turned towards United’s top scorer Cole as he closed in on a long-standing club record for the most goals scored in a season.
Legendary strikers Hughie Gallagher and George Robledo held the record with 39 goals in the 1926/27 and 1951/52 seasons respectively.
But Cole finally surpassed their records in United’s penultimate home game of the season.
On a balmy night at St James Park, the striker surged clear of the Aston Villa defence, rounded keeper Nigel Spink and calmly stroked the ball into the net at the Leazes End.
The United faithful roared their approval, as they famous “Andy, Andy Cole” song bounced around Gallowgate for a full half-hour after the historic goal.
The 5-1 hammering of Villa almost felt like a sideshow.
“It was another exciting game, but they all were to be honest,” said Clark.
“That night was a little bit different because of Andy’s goal.
“He had come close to getting it on a few occasions, but it was a typical Andy Cole goal.
“He was the perfect striker for our team and he just made the most of the service he got.
“The noise at St James that night will live with me for a very long time and it was great to see a good mate write his name into the history books.”
United’s final away game of the season saw them fall to a 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United, but there was some good news for the club as their return to European football was confirmed on the same day.
The Magpies would take their place in the UEFA Cup during the following campaign and take the club onto the continent for the first time since the 1977/78 season.
A 2-0 home win against Arsenal rounded off a remarkable nine months as United ended their first Premier League season in third place behind Blackburn Rovers and champions Manchester United.
That remains the highest finish by a newly-promoted club in the Premier League era.
Despite the talk of the current Wolves side, Lee insisted that United’s class of 94 remains the greatest newly-promoted side in the last quarter of a century.
“They didn’t finish third, did they?” Lee said of Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
“I don’t think any side will do that again.
“Wolves have done very well this season, and the Fulham side Lee was in did well.
“But we finished third and nobody will do that again.
“What I loved about Keegan is that he wanted to entertain, and teams don’t do that now.
“They want to draw; they want to hold on in tough games.
“But he wanted to go and entertain everyone, we did it, we did it well and we deserved that third place.”
It had been a stunning return to English football’s top-flight as Kevin Keegan and his Entertainers made their made on the Premier League.