Football: Swede dulls the pain

Simon Turnbull sees a week of highs with the low for the Newcastle manager
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The Independent Online
IT WAS through the doors of the St James' Room that Kenny Dalglish emerged on Friday afternoon. It might as well have been from a bunker. After the battle of Broadhall Way, it has been tin-hat time this week for the managerial leader of the Toon Army. Just a plain unreserved acknowledgement of Stevenage Borough's overwhelming moral victory, even uttered through gritted teeth, would have spared him from the slaughtering that followed. But disingenuity is one trait Dalglish has never followed. Instead, one honest but perceptibly peevish reference to the "bouncy ball" used last Sunday has rebounded in his face with a vengeance.

Not that any scars were evident as Dalglish took his seat in the main suite at St James' Park. No mention was made of the "S" words: Stevenage or Spalding. No one even suggested, not openly at any rate, that the Newcastle manager was talking metaphorical balls when he spoke of this week having been "a very positive one for the club". He had, after all, launched Newcastle's long-planned academy of football excellence the previous day. And here he was, flanked by pounds 5.1m worth of reinforcements.

Andreas Andersson and Andy Griffin have been bought to revive a team that has been flagging for two months now. Andersson, a 23-year-old Swedish international striker who has spent the past seven months largely bench- bound with Milan, and Griffin, an 18-year-old left-back from Stoke City, may be unveiled in black and white at Villa Park this afternoon. And they may be joined at St James' Park by Gary Speed, if Dalglish can persuade his board to stretch the total cheque-book remedy to pounds 11.1m.

At pounds 3.6m, Andersson has been acquired for roughly half the fee Newcastle banked for selling Faustino Asprilla to Parma. The Colombian invariably rose to the continental cup occasions in his two years on Tyneside but was consistently inconsistent on the Premiership stage, his goalscoring contribution adding up to a seven in 48 League appearances. Asprilla, moreover, was too idiosyncratic to forge a striking partnership with Alan Shearer, who, significantly, helped to persuade Andersson to sign over lunch on Monday.

There is no doubting Andersson's hunger. "I didn't get the chance to show what I could do in Milan," he said. "That's why I wanted to leave. I just want to get back to the form I had in Sweden. I want to play in the Premier League because I think it will suit my style." Dalglish thinks so too. He tried to sign Andersson for Blackburn three years ago, before the Swede moved to Gothenburg and led the national goalscoring charts for two seasons. "It's fortunate for us that it never worked out as Andreas would have liked in Milan," Dalglish said. "We're delighted to have him here. He can play alongside Alan but could also look after himself up front if need be."

One thing Andersson cannot do, though, is play against Stevenage on Wednesday night. He signed too late to help his new colleagues achieve a feat that was last accomplished by a Newcastle United team 78 years ago. Not since 1920, when Ed Dixon, a veteran of the Western Front, scored against the Southern Leaguers of Crystal Palace, have the Magpies picked off non-League opposition in their home nest. Since then, Wigan Athletic (1954), Hereford United (1972) and Hendon (1974) have all held Newcastle in FA Cup ties at St James' Park. Bedford Town went one better in the third round in 1964; they won 2-1.

So it might not be a no-win tie for Newcastle after all. Historical progress awaits, not to mention a place in the last 16.