Football: Flexible friends lift Keegan: Guy Hodgson on how 'Total Football' helped Newcastle scale a peak

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The Independent Online
IF SOME continental coaches read the Uefa Cup results and thought there was a misprint they were probably not alone. Kevin Keegan must have been fighting the temptation yesterday to shoot out of bed and check his newspapers for confirmation too.

The Newcastle manager had watched his team demolish Royal Antwerp in the Stade Bosuil in a semi-comatose state brought on by disbelief. He said he would have been delighted with a 2-1 win in the first round first leg, and if anyone had offered him a 1-1 draw without having to play he would have snapped their arm off, too.

So 5-0 with a team comprising mainly European debutants against the 1993 Cup-Winners' Cup finalists had him wondering whether his alarm clock had failed to go off. 'It was magnificent,' he said of the club's first match in Europe for 17 years. 'I've played in some good teams and I can't remember a performance like that. Maybe Liverpool at home on occasions but never away.'

The surprise stemmed from Keegan's own apprehensions, which were even stronger than when Newcastle were just 90 minutes away from relegation to the old Third Division in 1992. 'Questions were going round in my head,' he said. 'Are we going to get caught? Is Europe really so different.' The answer came within a minute when Robert Lee got the first of his headed hat-trick to launch one of the most impressive results achieved by a British team abroad.

The Belgians may have a European pedigree worthy of respect but they did not have a clue how to cope with the switches in position their opponents contrived. Indeed, Newcastle seem to be heading in the same direction as the great Dutch team of the Seventies, whose players could freely interchange and perform numerous tasks.

On Tuesday Peter Beardsley played wide on the right, a position either Ruel Fox or Lee could have occupied had the circumstances demanded it. Equally, all three could have played as striker or in central midfield. 'It's giving us great flexibility,' Keegan concurred, 'and makes it difficult for other managers to read us. They probably have a good idea who will be in the team but they can't know how or where we're going to play them.' Steve Watson, full-back, winger and striker already this season, personifies the breed.

Did Keegan believe his team could swap and change all the way to the Uefa Cup? 'I don't know, but because the players are hungry I believe we'll win something this season.' Keegan is not alone in that thought either.

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