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Dalglish offers no clues to French test

Kenny Dalglish, true to form, was giving nothing away yesterday. A similar performance by his players tonight, though, is no longer the chief concern of the man for whom masterminding victory in a European tie remains conspicuously absent from his managerial CV.

Dalglish's experience of the management game in Europe amounts to Blackburn's ill-fated meeting with Trelleborg the season before last, when they drew 2-2 in Sweden and lost 1-0 at home. Monaco's visit to St James' Park tonight for the first leg of their Uefa Cup quarter-final would have hardly offered an easy chance of opening a successful continental account at the best of times for the Scot whose delightful, clipped finish won the European Cup for Liverpool at the end of his first season in England. These are testing times for Dalglish on Tyneside.

He does not even have the relative luxury of taking Newcastle into their French test with the European bottom line of keeping it tight at the back on home ground as his big worry. With Alan Shearer convalescing, Les Ferdinand almost certainly hamstrung and Faustino Asprilla suspended, Dalglish will more likely than not be accompanied on the home bench by both of his prolific domestic predators as well as the loose cannon of a Colombian who has shot the Magpies within two rounds of a European final.

That, assuming Ferdinand fails to recover (Dalglish refused to rule him out definitely in front of the French press corps yesterday), would represent an enforced freezing of virtually half the pounds 60m of playing assets the Newcastle manager inherited two months ago. And, while he doubtless feared what damage Monaco's notoriously sharp front runners might do as he watched Graeme Souness' modest Saints go marching into the home box at will on Saturday, Dalglish must have lamented more than anything else Kevin Keegan's hasty sending of Darren Huckerby to Coventry.

A couple of finishes like the one Newcastle's pounds 1m giveaway produced at Old Trafford on Saturday and L'Equipe's front page might have been adorned with the legend "Huckerby - fin" on Wednesday morning. How a forward line that was led in the last 15 minutes against Southampton by the England Under-21 right-back of two years ago might effectively end Monaco's challenge is more difficult to imagine.

Steve Watson was an emergency centre-forward when Newcastle's Uefa Cup campaign ground to a blunt halt in Bilbao two seasons ago, but a more likely option for Dalglish tonight would be to deploy David Ginola as a central attacker. Ginola sparkled in such a role, alongside George Weah, in the Paris Saint-Germain team who reached the last four of the European Cup in 1995 and has been longing for a return to more middling ground.

Whether he will get his chance tonight remains to be seen. The thoughts of King Kenny remained a closed book at his St James' court yesterday.

"I'm not going to give anyone my thoughts and opinions about David Ginola," he stonewalled when asked about the sublimely gifted but more often than not deceptively flattering Frenchman who has made more technicolour appearances in Renault commercials than in the monochrome of the Newcastle strip in recent weeks.

Ginola has not hit the back of the net since the wondrous effort he struck against Ferencvaros on 29 October. His boss gave him a reminder of the finisher's art with a goal in training yesterday. "I could be in the frame myself," Dalglish mused, raising the intriguing prospect of a repeat of that 1978 Wembley winner against Bruges on his 46th birthday.

In stark contrast to Dalglish, Monaco's coach, the former France midfielder Jean Tigana, has such a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal his biggest worry is whether to play Victor Ikpeba, who has five Uefa Cup goals to his name already this season, or the lightning quick teenage prodigy Thierry Henry alongside Anderson da Silva, his brilliant Brazilian.

Tigana's team boast a 100 per cent record away from home thus far in their campaign. And if the French champions elect go for the Magpies' jugular tonight, Newcastle's season could be bust before they even go to Monte Carlo.