Yesterday Keegan got his victory, though not the one he had in mind six months ago. The Premiership crown may be safely locked away in Old Trafford's trophy cabinet but it was Ferguson's turn to squirm. The bench in the visitors' dug-out at St James' Park was not a comfortable place to be.
Ferguson, to his great credit, swallowed the bitter pill of his heaviest defeat in 22 years of football management - and Manchester United's worst for 16 years - with commedable grace. "These things happen," he said. "We were well beaten in the end. We'll just put it down as a blip and get on with it."
Before doing so, however, he could not resist taking a sideways swipe at the referee, Steve Dunn, for supporting his assistant's verdict that Darren Peacock's header had crossed the line for the opening goal after 13 minutes and for denying Karel Poborsky a penalty before Newcastle's second. "I think the referee took a wee bit of the gloss off Newcastle's performace," Ferguson said.
Keegan, to his credit, too, was magnanimous in victory. "Manchester United will still be in the shake up at the end of the season," he said. "Considering who we were playing, what happened last season and what happened in the Charity Shield, it was enjoyable. But we are not going to gloat."
That said, Keegan confessed he had sent out his team to avenge that Charity Shield embarrassment at Wembley in August. "I told them to think of the supporters who went down to London and came back with a 4-0 defeat," he said. "The Manchester United fans were taking the mickey out of them. I said to the lads, `Let's give them a day to remember.' Today they had their day.
"For me as a manager it was as satisfying as the day we left the First Division by beating Leicester 7-1. We'll enjoy tonight but the worst thing for me would be if we went flat when we play Oldham in the Coca-Cola Cup here on Wednesday."
Sir John Hall was less restrained after emerging from the home dressing room. "He said it was an unbelievable day," Keegan related, "and I told him, `when you've spent pounds 60m you deserve an unbelievable day every now and then'."
For the time being, Newcastle are back on top of the domestic pile. But it was left to David Ginola to point out: "We were 12 points clear last season and didn't win the title. The difficult time is still ahead."
HIGHS AND LOWS
n It was Manchester United's heaviest defeat since they were beaten 6- 0 at Ipswich in the old First Division on 1 March 1980.
n It was the first time United had conceded five since the Manchester derby at Maine Road on 23 September 1989.
n It was Newcastle's most convincing win since Wimbledon were beaten 6-1 at St James' Park in the Premiership a year ago tomorrow. The Magpies also won 5-0 at Bristol City in the Coca-Cola Cup last season.
n It was Newcastle's best-ever win over United, although they did beat them 7-3 in the 1959-60 season. There was also a 5-1 win in 1969-70.
n It was Newcastle's first league win over United since Boxing Day in 1987. Peter Beardsley was also on the winning team at St James' that day.Reuse content