Football: Keegan forced to face facts

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Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Tottenham Hotspur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

LONG may football remain democratic, allowing anyone to aspire to what we are now supposed to call the Premiership, but there are one or two clubs and their great grounds without whom the top rank would not be complete. And yesterday that was why St James' Park, rebuilt and revived in spirit and stands, was welcomed back in an atmosphere of celebration that transcended any serious bothering about the outcome or the fact that Newcastle had been weakened by injuries even before the season had begun.

Who better than Ossie Ardiles to provide the day's opponents. Curious choice though he was for a club so rich in home-produced famous names, he had battled against financial limitations and squabbles to revive Newcastle in the 10 months he spent there before Kevin Keegan left the sunshine coast of Spain to return and become an almost instant honorary Geordie, which perhaps Ardiles could never have been.

It was not the time nor place to suggest too loudly that Newcastle would find this season too tough. Nevertheless, Keegan knows that, which was why he bought the experience of Peter Beardsley. Unhappily he immediately lost Beardsley for what should have been the former England goalscorer's most effective weeks.

Beardsley, who suffered a broken cheekbone in a 'friendly' against Liverpool,joined Newcastle's growing list of victims. So with Spurs without the precocious Nick Barmby and Darren Anderton, it could have been a game without its star attractions. Here, though, atmosphere and excitement were guaranteed and Spurs were at first drawn into a tangle that needed a Beardsley or Anderton to unravel.

If Newcastle have one threatening problem this season it surely must be a lack of invention. Yesterday their inevitable pressure brought them ample possession but their preoccupation with spreading attacks to the right wing and missing out on the ensuing centres became all too predictable. The newcomer from Cyprus, Nicky Papavasiliou, attempted to find space and was neat enough in possession, but whenever he got the ball into the Spurs' penalty area all hope disappeared.

Having let the initial euphoria subside slightly, Spurs slowly made Newcastle face the facts of their own lack of variation. Pavel Srnicek delayed any punishment by deftly flicking Gordon Durie's header over the bar after Gary Mabbutt headed Steve Sedgley's corner back across a hesitant defence. Hesitation also cost Newcastle dear after 36 minutes when a fine, perceptive forward pass by Vinny Samways allowed Teddy Sheringham to take control, avoid Kevin Scott's tackle on the edge of the area and watch Snricek come out before beating him with a chip into the far corner.

But for the efficient goalkeeping of Srnicek, Newcastle would have lost touch with any realistic chance of starting their season with the victory that until Beardsley's injury the whole city unreasonably expected. His first- half blocking of a dangerous shot by Jason Dozzell was important but he did even better later to parry a firm drive again from Dozzell.

Srnicek stood firm throughout the second half but as for his colleagues, they fell seriously below the standard required to ensure that this does not become a campaign of persistent worry. Spurs settled into a pleasing pattern of accurate passing, mostly instigated by the productive Samways.

Even when Newcastle did penetrate deep into the Spurs' penalty area, their snapping at chances was unconvincing. Andy Cole was their worst culprit when heading yards wide after Papavasiliou had done all of the hard work pulling the ball back form the byline.

Durie clearly saw the absence of Barmby as his opportunity to create an early-season impression. Additionally, Sheringham relished the absence of tight marking and the huge amount of space Spurs were allowed on the approaches to the Newcastle penalty area. Samways regularly slipped into that vacancy and caused harm with his every excursion.

Obviously, Newcastle must close those passageways or their avenue to the days of success that their fans so earnestly await will never open. Of course, they will also need a shade more good fortune than they had in the last minute yesterday when Liam O'Brien's free kick slammed against the post and Robert Lee could not quite make contact with the rebound.

So Newcastle have the ground, the crowd and the atmosphere but whether they have the playing capacity to make their stay in the Premiership a long one is ominously debatable. Football would be much the poorer if they failed.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): P Srnicek; B Venison, S Howey, K Scott, J Beresford; L Clark, R Lee, P Bracewell, N Papavasiliou (L O'Brien, 78 min); M Allen (S Watson, 62 min), A Cole. Sub not used: J Burridge (gk). Manager: K Keegan.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): E Thorstvedt; S Campbell, C Calderwood, G Mabbutt, D Austin; D Howells, S Sedgley, J Dozzell, V Samways; G Durie (A Turner, 75 min), T Sheringham, Subs not used: I Walker (gk), D Caskey. Manager: O Ardiles.

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster)

Goal: Sheringham (0-1, 36 min)

(Photograph omitted)