Few could have blamed Newcastle's visiting supporters from feeling a little dispirited as they trudged away from that heavy loss, at Liverpool, in early March. The 'Keegan Effect' was clearly not what it used to be, they may have even muttered quietly to themselves. But since then, the side have a new-found resilience and desire that was lacking under Keegan's predecessor, Sam Allardyce.
Newcastle are now on an undefeated run of five games, following this draw against Portsmouth, whose manager Harry Redknapp admitted looked a little jaded after playing three games in a week, including a FA Cup semi-final.
For Newcastle, it seems the belief is drifting back to a talented but under-achieving squad. "Both Harry and myself will say that we could have won this game and could have lost this game," said Keegan.
"It is a sign of progress and that is what I have said to the players because we are disappointed not to get anything out of this game. The defence know that if they do concede a goal, we do have goals in us to get back into the game, which I do not think they felt six or eight weeks ago when I first came.
Of course, this fixture would have taken an altogether different complexion had Redknapp, and not Keegan, taken the position vacated by Allardyce. But Redknapp stayed to guide Portsmouth to the FA Cup final and to their highest points tally in the Premier League, a milestone they reached after their midweek victory at West Ham United.
"It has been a tough week for us," said Redknapp. "It was always going to be tough today and I thought that the players looked tired. The most important thing for us though, is that we go to Wembley and win the FA Cup."
Keegan made just the one change from the side that beat Reading last week, welcoming back the defender Steven Taylor. He continued to play a three-man strikeforce, with the England striker Michael Owen, searching for his fifth goal in succession, playing again in a withdrawn role behind Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins.
"I think Michael's future does lie there," said Keegan. "I think he is a clever footballer and I think that withdrawn role means that you cannot mark him out of the game. He doesn't give it away very often. At the moment, it is a fantastic way that he is playing in that role. It gives ( England manager) Fabio Capello a nice problem."
"We need to tie him down to a new contract and I am almost certain that he will sign it, as certain as you can be," added Keegan of his captain. "He will lead the club for the next three of four years."
Owen had one of the best chances in a game short on goal-scoring opportunities. The ball flew into the England striker's path late on after deflecting off the defender Sylvain Distin, but Owen's effort was tipped over by the impressive David James, who was days ago, named on the PFA shortlist for Player of the Year.
"They have a goalkeeper who in any other year than this one would be player of the year," added Keegan. "There is a player at Manchester United that I think will get it. They should do a little award for David James somewhere if he doesn't win it."
The defender Glen Johnson, arguably, along with James, one of the better performers on a day where defences were on top, threatened with a number of surges out of defence. He himself came close with a shot on 59 minutes that was blocked by the striker Jermain Defoe, who he played a clever assist in that chance. Defoe had been guilty of profligacy, volleying wide from close range moments earlier, after he had drifted in behind his marker.
But there was little to choose between the sides for the last third of the game and both were left to settle for a point.Reuse content