At least Kevin Keegan will be under no illusions about the task facing him in transforming Newcastle into a force again – or anything like it. Depleted as they were for the hero's return, the pride of the Geordie nation never looked like scoring a goal, let alone beating Bolton, who started the game only above the relegation places on goal difference and with their leading scorer, Nicolas Anelka, sold.
Bolton have unwittingly played a supporting role in the Tyneside soap opera over the past 15 months. Their 2-1 win here last October in front of a crowd down to 48,000 was the type of result that undermined confidence in Glenn Roeder, who was ousted before the end of the season.So on the opening day of thecurrent campaign it was Sam Allardyce who returned to the Reebok Stadium in charge of a Newcastle side who led 3-0 after half an hour and won easing up; hard to imagine that day that he would be gone by mid-January.
Yesterday they were again supposed to play the role of cannon fodder, but found Newcastle hopelessly short of ammunition. In a rare display of negative thinking, Keegan had got some excuses in early by claiming to have a "frighteningly small squad" at his disposal, with four players at the African Nations Cup in Habib Beye, Abdoulaye Faye, Geremi and Obafemi Martins and another four – Emre, Alan Smith, Nicky Butt and Joey Barton – unavailable through their own indiscipline.
Just as he will have to rely heavily on his old mentor Arthur Cox for advice on whom to buy in the next fortnight, so Keegan took advice from his numerous coaches on the notably thin midfield options before selecting a quartet that includedDavid Rozehnal, nominally a centre-back.
The defence and attack presented fewer problems, though Mark Viduka was unfit, allowing Shola Ameobi back in for the first time since September to play alongside Michael Owen, who happily accepted the olive branch of captaincy but would be sadly anonymous.
Allardyce's successor at Bolton, Sammy Lee, did not even last until the new year, but having put Gary Megson in place well before the transfer window, Bolton have been recruiting and fielded two newcomers yesterday in Matt Taylor, surprisinglyreleased by Portsmouth, and the right-back Gretar Steinsson. In a dull first half, set-pieces swung in by Taylor towards the power-ful figure of Kevin Daviesoffered the greatest potential for a goal, though that was notsaying much. It was desperatelypoor fare.
Keegan was out in the technical area urging his back four to push up before 10 minutes had been played. By that time Newcastle had barely reached the opposition penalty area as Bolton, starting much the brighter, saw low drives from Andy O'Brien and Davies comfortably held by Shay Given.
Apart from one corner, just about the only moment toexcite the home crowd was a deft through-pass from Rozehnal that Owen was unable to control. It took fully 25 minutes before Keegan's side managed a shot, Jose Enrique sending the first hopelessly wide and Rozehnal miscuing the second even more embarrassingly wide.
Walking out of the tunnel with his sidekick Terry McDermott at the start of the second half, Newcastle's supposed saviour looked considerably more pensive than he had before kick-off; and no wonder. The one tactical adjustment was that Damien Duff came in off his flank when Bolton had possession to nullifythe numerical advantage of the visitors' five-man midfield, in which the young Liverpoolloanee Danny Guthrie was again impressive.
Still there were no real scoring opportunities, though the home side did at last move forward a little more threateningly.Ameobi would have been in on goal had Ricardo Gardner's smart tackle not nicked Charles N'Zogbia's pass away from him; James Milner put in two good crosses from the right, the first headed weakly by Rozehnal and the second turned over the crossbar by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Bolton sent on Ivan Campo as a second defensive midfielderbut with four youngsters as his substitutes, Keegan's options were limited. He sent on one of them, Kazenga LuaLua, but by the end Newcastle and their manager were reduced to screaming for non-existent penalties and Given had to save well from Jlloyd Samuel.Reuse content