New boss but same old show

Emotions were running high on Tyneside but return of the messiah proved to be an anti-climax
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Confused? Those who have been struggling to come to terms with the events at St James' Park this week now have Messianic anti-climax to think about. It was not meant to be like this. It was meant to be laugh-a-minute, goal-a- minute stuff, not Shay Given making the first real save of a dreadful match 89 minutes and 56 seconds into it. There is a lot of work to be done Keegan had said. There is. "You should have kept Big Sam," the Bolton fans sang.

As injury time petered out, there was a chorus of Keegan Wonderland from the Gallowgate, but it was a show of defiance. Had Sam Allardyce been in charge, Newcastle would have been booed off. But it's a point, Newcastle's first in five matches. And they kept a clean sheet.

Keegan smiled as he clutched Gary Megson on the final whistle. There was no grand introduction on the pitch and given how things unfolded, perhaps it was just as well. Expectations were great enough without a speech from the returning leader.

Keegan had mentioned "patience" more than once since Wednesday's announcement, but the request was somewhat overlooked in all the excitement. What he discovered at the club's training ground was a list of the unavailable for his first game. To Beye, Faye, Geremi and Martins in Africa, were Smith, Butt and Emre due to suspension, Barton to other matters and then on Friday Mark Viduka was lost.

The teamsheet appeared with David Rozehnal in midfield and Shola Ameobi up front. It was Ameobi's first game since September. The four outfield substitutes were juniors with 10 games between them.

By half time it was apparent how big this job is, but diehards recalled that in Keegan's first coming in 1982 it was 0-0 at the interval and Newcastle had won. Ten years later as manager, the second coming had a 0-0 start at half time and Newcastle won3-0 in the second half against Bristol City. But not this time. The hype was not trustworthy.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle produced a 48-page "Welcome Home" pull-out yesterday. It featured a "King Kev is Back" mask. You had to cut the eyes out. Local taxpayers may be concerned that Newcastle City Council took a half page to say: "Our Kevin, Taking Care of the Toon, Welcome Home."

Throw in the 50,000 odd hats given away by a famous sportswear company with "Return of the King"and you could say there was a degree of expectation. The mood was fuelled by the Tannoy tunes. This Charming Man was followed by I Am The Resurrection. If all Keegan's return has done, it has improved the music.

It was Johnny Cash who sang "the music has all gone" about a previously loving relationship and until Wednesday that was how it felt locally. For some time. If there has been a geographic disparity to some of the coverage of Keegan's return – nationally there is amazement – then it ignores the local sense of dejection that has been around and profound for a lot longer than Sam Allardyce'sreign.

Disillusionment had set in at the end of Sir Bobby Robson's last full season. That was May 2004. It was soon over for Robson after that and while there were moments under Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder and even Allardyce – there was a lot of optimism after Newcastle won at Bolton on the opening day – these were silver linings on a cloudy horizon. Sometimes they were not even silver.

John Anderson witnessed both Keegan's previous incarnations, first as a team-mate in 1982 – Anderson was on the bench when Keegan made his scoring debut in the 1-0 win over QPR – then as a retiring player when Keegan replaced Ossie Ardiles.

Since then Anderson has covered 99 per cent of Newcastle's games for Radio Newcastle. He said on Wednesday he was "absolutely gobsmacked" because he did not think Keegan would want it.

A problem last night was that too many players were out. Even Messiahs struggle without nine first-teamers and for the first hour this was like watching two sides organised by Allardyce.

When James Milner swung in a 65th minute cross that Jussi Jaaskelainen had to tip over, it was Newcastle's first effort on target. It got a little better. But it needs to as of now.