Football: Beresford determined to end Newcastle's barren years

FA CUP COUNTDOWN
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The Independent Online
When John Beresford joined Newcastle United he expected his trophy cabinet would soon be bursting with silverware.

Five years down the line the shelves are bare and, as he tells Simon Turnbull, it is time the Magpies started to deliver - starting against Everton on Sunday.

Newcastle United have been this particular way before in their latter day era of great expectation and great disappointment. Three seasons ago their quest for silverware turned into the kind of Mersey mission Kenny Dalglish and his stuttering side will undertake in the coming week.

Andy Cole had gone and so had Newcastle's hopes of success in the title race. Blackburn, managed at the time by Dalglish, and Manchester United were disappearing over the horizon.

The only prize left for Kevin Keegan and his great pretenders was the FA Cup - until, that is, they encountered Everton in a sixth-round tie at Goodison Park. Dave Watson claimed the only goal of the tie - after Duncan Ferguson left the Newcastle defence in a suitably disorderly state.

"Yeah," John Beresford recalled, "it was a header from Mr Ferguson that did the damage." Beresford played at left-back for Newcastle that day. He is likely to be in their midfield when they return to Goodison on FA Cup duty on Sunday.

"The thing is," he continued, on the subject of Everton's towering totem, "you've really got to try to cut off the supply at source. It's up to the full-backs and the wide midfielders to stop quality balls coming in, because that's when he's at his most dangerous. Someone who is 6ft 5in and can jump is capable of causing you a hell of a lot of problems."

Such concern is understandable. Defeat on Sunday and against Liverpool in the quarter-finals of the Coca-Cola Cup at St James' Park next Wednesday would effectively condemn Newcastle to yet another trophy-less season.

After five defeats and two draws in their last seven Premiership matches, the runners-up of the past two seasons start the new year 20 points behind Manchester United. More worryingly, with Everton and Tottenham Hotspur just six points behind, relegation has suddenly become the talk of the Toon Army.

"In all my time at Newcastle I've never experienced anything like it before," Beresford said, "but maybe the kick up the backside will be good for us. It makes you think, "Hang on a bit. It's not all glory, glory."

"There's always a big club that gets dragged down there and I think it's better to get this little warning now rather than when it might be too late. We know what we've got to do and it's up to us to put it right.

"We're stuck in a little bit of a rut in which nothing seems to be going for us. It must be hard for the gaffer, because he's finding it very difficult to put out the team that he wants to and to use the formation he wants to. It would be nice to get a bit of consistency.

"From a personal point of view, though, it is strange when you're coming off the pitch and you're thinking, "We haven't won again". It's a new experience for me at Newcastle and it's something we've got to get out of very quickly.

"I don't care if we have a nightmare on Sunday, or I have a nightmare and we scrape a jammy 1-0 win. That's what it sometimes needs to turn things round."

The 31-year-old Beresford has been at Newcastle ever since Keegan started to turn things round for the Tyneside club. He was the first long-term investment Keegan made after the short-term buys that helped avert the threat of relegation to the old Third Division.

He arrived from Portsmouth for pounds 650,000 in June 1992 expecting to become part of the first Newcastle team to win a major domestic honour since Jimmy Scoular lifted the FA Cup in 1955. Five and a half years later he is still waiting. And so is Tyneside.

"Of course the expectation is great," Beresford said. "But I remember the massive pressure Alex Ferguson was under to win something when he first went to United. There was a lot of talk about him getting the sack at one point, but they gave him more time and eventually he got the balance he wanted in the team.

"It shows that sometimes you shouldn't be too eager to change things. The thing is at Newcastle we developed so quickly the expectations went sky high. We finished third the first season we were in the Premier League and we've been second the last two years.

"All of a sudden the supporters are saying, `Well, hang on a minute, we are one of the best teams in the land'. But we still haven't won anything.

"This year, with us struggling in the League, the expectations are a little bit higher in the cup competitions. But to play for Newcastle you have to accept that. It goes with the territory. I'm going into these games thinking, `Yeah, we've got to deliver'.

"I came to Newcastle to win things. I've still yet to do it. But this is the season it will hopefully happen."

It is more likely to happen if Beresford and his colleagues manage to remain on the cup trail long enough for Alan Shearer to add his attacking clout to Newcastle's trophy-seeking cause.

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