Football: Howey begins to rebuild his case

Glenn Moore talks to a Newcastle defender for whom today is a big step
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The Independent Online
Even if Kevin Keegan were still in charge at Newcastle United the bookmakers' odds of 14-1 against their going down 4-3 to Liverpool for the third successive season at Anfield this afternoon would not seem generous. With Kenny Dalglish in charge at St James' Park they are positively - and typically - miserly.

It may not have been obvious during their dramatic European Cup victory over Croatia Zagreb on Wednesday but Newcastle have undergone a personality change since Dalglish arrived. True, last season's 4-3 epic was under his care, but he was still settling into the job. In the 14 matches since, Newcastle have conceded nine goals, and Zagreb were the first side to exceed one against them in that time.

The difference is both in attitude and personnel. In buying Shay Given, Dalglish appears finally to have solved the goalkeeping problem while applying a consistent formation has eased defensive uncertainty. Stuart Pearce has brought experience and Alessandro Pistone a touch of class. He has also changed the team's emphasis.

"The old gaffer liked the 4-3s and just hoped we scored the four," Steve Howey said. "The new one is happy to grind out a 1-0. You wonder what people want sometimes. People hailed the first 4-3, and the game in Croatia, as great games but they also criticised us for giving away goals. Yet if it is a grinding 1-0, they complain it's boring.

"A couple of seasons ago we defenders were getting caned, but it was not all our fault. The team were so attacking-minded, even the full-backs loved to push on. When opponents were able to soak up the pressure and hit back we were often caught with not many men back and at times we were overrun.

"It has been better for us playing with five at the back every week. We sometimes did it with Kevin Keegan but he would just come in and tell us on the day and it was difficult for defenders to drop into that mode. There would be a space where you were used to having someone picking up."

Howey is expected to start for the first time this afternoon after coming on for Pearce after 30 minutes of the European game. Pearce is now out with a hamstring strain. There is a symmetry to this, as it was in the first 4-3 game at Anfield that Howey pulled a hamstring and missed the rest of that season and England's Euro 96 build-up.

"Steve McManaman went on a run and I had to catch him; as I did he cut back and I pulled a hamstring checking," recalled Howey, who may only have one game to prove himself as the international break means Pearce should be fit when Newcastle play again on 13 September.

"I'll have to see what the gaffer does," he said. "It is difficult being on the bench. You want the team to do well but you don't feel a part of it as you've not done anything. At the moment I'm just pleased to be fit but having spent a year on my backside injured I do not want to do it again. It is difficult for managers now because there are a lot of good players on benches and if they are good players they will not be happy not playing."

European football is one reason for the large squads clubs such as Newcastle now keep and Dalglish was grateful on Wednesday to be able to bring on substitutes of the calibre of Howey and Temur Ketsbaia, the match-winner.

The game was another learning experience for a Newcastle side whose European knowledge is limited to seven ties in four seasons. Having been grouped with Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Dynamo Kiev in the Champions' League group, they need to remember the lessons of Wednesday.

"We will learn from our mistakes," Howey said. "We will know in future not to go around passing the ball at the back in the last minute instead of getting it down the other end. No one ever scored from a goal-kick.

"Although most Premiership sides have top foreign players now, it is still different playing foreign teams. They approach you slow, slow, fast, and they are very quick when they finally come at you. English teams are quick, quick all the time. We have to get used to the difference and not go hell for leather but at the same time we must not change our ways and lose our strengths because of them."

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