Football: Portsmouth to test revivalist spirit: Matt Tench looks at the weekend football programme

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The Independent Online
THE best record in their League or anybody else's. A manager who appears to have the full confidence of the fans and board. A clutch of the most exciting youngsters around. Newcastle supporters can be forgiven if they are pinching themselves this morning.

Their club's elevated position in the First Division (Charlton are a point ahead, but have played an extra game) is all the more unlikely after seven months which have been turbulent even by Newcastle standards.

Kevin Keegan replaced Ossie Ardiles as manager in February and an eventful initiation, which included arguably the shortest honeymoon period on record, saw relegation avoided only on the final day of the season. Newcastle's fanatical following then had to wait until mid-summer to be assured that Keegan would remain on Tyneside and they went into the season at

11-1 to win promotion. Five wins out of five later and they are 5-2 to win the First Division title.

The transformation has been forged by a combination of young guns (midfielder Lee Clark and defender Steve Howey are currently catching the eye) and old warriors such as Kevin Sheedy and Paul Bracewell.

A measure of their strength is that for today's game at home to Portsmouth (another sell-out) Keegan is able to replace the injured Gavin Peacock, inspiration for much of the impressive opening, with Mick Quinn, while Steve Watson, who was good enough for the England Under-21s in Spain, is unlikely to get a game.

Quinn has yet to start. 'He's worked hard and is champing at the bit for his chance. He'll relish the sort of service he'll get in this team,' Keegan said.

Quinn is one of a number who will be facing their former team, among them the Pompey manager Jim Smith, whose time on Tyneside ended in acrimonious dismissal. Smith's talented side have made an indifferent opening, perhaps finding problems in adjusting to the summer sales of Darren Anderton and John Beresford - the latter to Newcastle. A 100 per cent record at home is matched by two defeats in three on their travels.

In the Premier revenge is in the air, with Arsenal and Manchester United among those seeking it. The season may be less than a month old but today's fixtures are the reverse of those played in the first midweek, a computing quirk which allows for some early score settling.

Blackburn contributed to Arsenal's early woes with a 1-0 victory at Ewood Park and arrive at Highbury five places and four points better off than the pre-season title favourites. With Alan Shearer quickly settled and forming a formidable striking partnership with Mike Newell, Arsenal's ponderous defence can expect to be fully tested.

United were even worse than Arsenal in their first three games, one of which was a 3-0 defeat at home to Everton, but travel to Goodison with confidence restored by four successive victories, the latest being the prized scalp of Leeds last Sunday.

Norwich, the Premier leaders, go to Stamford Bridge where they face their former striker Robert Fleck, in a Chelsea shirt. Bryan Gunn, the Norwich keeper, has played against Fleck only once before, in a Scottish reserve match, and there is a dispute to settle. 'He insists he scored a penalty against me,' Gunn said, 'but I'm sure I saved it.'

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