Bellamy steals points as slack City bring goals to Newcastle

Newcastle United 4 - Manchester City 3
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The Independent Football

If there is one scoreline that will be forever associated with Kevin Keegan's emotional rule as Newcastle manager it is 4-3 - and legend will tell you Keegan's teams often scored the three.

If there is one scoreline that will be forever associated with Kevin Keegan's emotional rule as Newcastle manager it is 4-3 - and legend will tell you Keegan's teams often scored the three.

Reality is different. There was only one 4-3 result in Keegan's five years on Tyneside, the epic defeat at Anfield that is still regarded as the finest match the Premiership has staged. Under Kenny Dalglish, whose fitful tenure at St James' Park was seen as a grim, grey intermission, there were two.

However, if you were creating an adjective to describe yesterday's astonishing encounter - seven goals in 40 second-half minutes, two of them penalties - it would be "Keeganesque".

As he strode into the press room at the ground his achievements had rebuilt, Keegan was not ready to be magnanimous in glorious defeat. "There was a classic in there somewhere, but it was not a great game of football," he said. "Our fans will go away feeling robbed." He identified the thief as the referee, Steve Dunn. "The really astonishing thing was not the result but that the referee was not strong enough. The players are, to a man, livid about it." Graeme Souness, often an arch-bater of officials, said he doubted either penalty awarded by Dunn was justified but added with a smile that he would not risk a fine when he had won.

This was, however, the result you might have expected between Newcastle and Manchester City. Not since the Sealed Knot's last recreation of the Battle of Naseby have there been quite as many cavaliers on a single field. After a decidedly roundhead first half, dominated by the midfield inspiration of Nicky Butt, the match exploded as a contest four minutes after the restart.

Paul Bosvelt tripped Butt who - as a Gorton boy who will never entirely leave Old Trafford - was inspired by the sight of the sky blue City shirts. Laurent Robert, starting a match for the first time under Souness, curled a free-kick past David James, who was as motionless as he had been when another Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, beat him similarly in Lisbon's Stadium of Light last summer.

Then came the first of the penalties. Stephen Carr, of all people, charged forward. Steve McManaman made one attempt to bring him down, James another but neither properly connected. Nevertheless, Alan Shearer, as he has done so many times before, converted beneath the Gallowgate stand. Logically, the match ought to then have been sealed but if Newcastle are to fulfil Keegan's hope that Souness should "succeed where I failed'', they will have to stop tossing aside leads, a trait which has dogged them in half of their Premiership fixtures this season at a cost of 11 points and Sir Bobby Robson's job.

But for a dramatically late intervention from Craig Bellamy, a man who had spent the past week goading Souness into ever more volcanic spats of temper, it would have happened again. This time Keegan had his own side's defensive sloppiness to blame, rather than Dunn as a poor-back from Olivier Bernard was not cut out and Bellamy finished beautifully.

"It is a mad business we are in,'' Souness reflected after the maddest of matches. "One thing is not in doubt and that is that Craig Bellamy is someone who wants to win everything he does and that includes an argument with the manager, but he showed today he is a proper player.''

Shaun Wright-Phillips is certainly that and perhaps much, much more. His two finishes on the ground where he marked his England debut with a wonderfully taken goal were emphatic. When he burst into the area to trigger a sequence of three goals in four minutes there appeared not the slightest doubt he would beat Shay Given.

The same could be said of his second that dragged the match back to the briefest of even keels and ought to have given Keegan a first point at St James' on his fourth return to Tyneside. In between, Robbie Fowler, whom Keegan stated would not play for Manchester City again until he proved his fitness beyond doubt, converted a penalty for the slightest of touches by Butt.

There were just two survivors from Keegan's astonishing reign, and he could not have reckoned that Robbie Elliott would have made a decisive intervention. His goal was the first in three years and not since the Warren Commission developed the "magic bullet theory'' to explain the Kennedy assassination has a projectile taken such a strange trajectory. Robert's free-kick took the slightest of touches from Elliott's head and struck the post. Richard Dunne took a rustic swing at the rebound, missed entirely and saw the ball trickle between his legs and over the line.

Elliott duly performed a celebration that resembled a runaway chicken, providing a bizarre note to mark a bizarre game.

Goals: Robert (49) 1-0, Shearer (56pen) 2-0, Wright-Phillips (64) 2-1, Fowler (67pen) 2-2, Elliott (68) 3-2, Wright-Phillips (77) 3-3, Bellamy (89) 4-3.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given, Carr (Hughes, 59), O'Brien, Eliott, Bernard, Jenas, Bowyer, Butt, Robert (Milner, 70), Bellamy (Ameobi, 90), Shearer. Subs not used: Harper (gk), Ambrose.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James, Mills, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher, Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt, McManaman, Sibierski, Macken (Flood, 57), Anelka (Fowler, 45). Subs not used: Waterreus (gk), Negouai, Jordan.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol) Booked: Newcastle: Butt. City: Bosvelt, McManaman.

Man of the Match: Wright-Phillips.

Attendance: 52,316