Keegan strikes balance

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Allen 28 Newcastle United 2 Ferdinand 37, 61 Attendance: 32,535
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The Independent Online
So Which Newcastle United are we expected to believe in: the one which was completely out-fought in the first half at Sunderland and again by Tottenham yesterday? Or the one which produced two stirring second- half fight-backs which have now produced maximum points in the last two games?

Those who point to Les Ferdinand's welcome return to scoring ways probably only have part of the story, as the Londoner's partnership with Alan Shearer looked ominously full of menace for the first time yesterday. "The fact that they are both facing up to this challenge may have sparked them into proving what great players they are," Kevin Keegan said afterwards with a mixture of relief and relish.

But Keegan was big enough to acknowledge the problems that were all too obvious in the first half, when an energised Spurs, boosted by the return of Chris Armstrong from injury, exerted maximum pressure on Newcastle's defence.

In particular, Spurs exposed the frailties of Newcastle's two present full-backs, Steve Watson and Robbie Elliott, and begged further questions about the continued absence of Keegan's bought-in alternatives, Warren Barton and John Beresford.

Watson was horribly at fault for the goal which gave Spurs a deserved lead, when Andy Sinton was able to flick the ball over him and then curl in a cross which the 18-year-old Rory Allen calmly turned home. Keegan was quickly up on the touchline to remonstrate with Watson - "Not a bollocking, just advice", the manager said.

Nevertheless, the reason Keegan perseveres with the youngsters was evident with the equaliser, as Elliott cleverly intercepted Armstrong's cross- field pass and fed David Ginola. The Frenchman's curling cross brought Ian Walker and Ferdinand into a sprawl, but when Shearer miscued the follow-up it fell to Ferdinand to poke the ball home.

Even so, Spurs might well have regained the lead before the interval when Allan Nielsen marred an otherwise excellent home debut by scooping over a chance after Armstrong had ripped past Darren Peacock. At this stage, Newcastle's best hope was that Spurs, like Sunderland, might have burned themselves out with their first-half exertions.

Newcastle's sprint start to the second half certainly suggested as much, and they had threatened several times before Shearer and Robert Lee combined on the right and Lee crossed for Ferdinand to hook home.

But although the game now seemed set up for Newcastle to profit further, Ginola, in particular, seem to down tools, never once going past Clive Wilson, a full-back playing on his wrong side. Instead, Newcastle were indebted to Peter Beardsley's inexhaustible industry for keeping Spurs at bay, with Ian Walker making an excellent save to deny the veteran a late goal.

Had Spurs' substitute Ronny Rosenthal been able to profit from one of Pavel Srnicek's familiar errors late on, Spurs might have grabbed a point. But Newcastle's fight-back, and the overall excellence of Shearer and Ferdinand confirmed that they deserved them all.