Keegan's spirit lives on

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The Independent Online
Kevin Keegan's ghost, like that of Banquo, haunted the feast which Newcastle United and Aston Villa served up at Villa Park on Saturday. His wraith was credited with a part in the first goal in the 2-2 draw while his spirit infused the whole afternoon.

From the Newcastle end hung a banner, "Thanks for the memories, Kev", from Villa's Holte End came the chant "Keegan's ******* off home". Between them two good teams performed a passion play littered with errors but gilded with magic.

The match was good enough to be elevated from sub-plot to centre stage but once two weary teams had left to a rousing ovation the mind again turned to wondering why did he go? And what now?

Even the man closest to Keegan did not have any answers. Interestingly, Terry McDermott, after a traumatic week followed by a 90-minute illustration of the stress of managing Newcastle, suggested he was developing a taste for it.

"I thoroughly enjoyed today," he said as the press huddled around him in Villa's car park. "I enjoy this part of football. While I always loved playing I never thought I would enjoy this side of it but the involvement I've had in the last five years certainly hasn't dulled my appetite. If anything it has whetted it.

"Obviously there are pressures and stresses, it is how you handle them. You kick every ball. I was talking to Arthur [Cox, his co-caretaker] before the game and he said: `You'll kick the ball more than them. They kick it now and then, we kick it every time'.

"I have been feeling very emotional. I'm not normally like that. Normally I'm a bubbly sort of guy, I like a laugh and a joke, but I found it difficult to put a smile on my own face. If you've ever lost a brother... well, that's how I felt.

"The worst part of the week was telling the players. I found it very difficult to get my words out and get through it. I was very emotional. We had 20 minutes with them. They were flat. It was like a morgue when I read out the statement.

"But you have to lift yourself. I love football. I love Newcastle. I'm doing this for the people of Newcastle. I'll give 110 per cent, and if that's good enough, fine. If not, at least I've had a go."

McDermott, whose voice seemed close to breaking again on Saturday, said he had not put his name forward. He does not need to, the board will soon see whether he and Cox can handle the job. He has not ruled himself out of staying on permanently.

"I stayed on one condition - that Kevin gave me his blessing. He personally asked me to stay."

Having chosen the team, which restored Peter Beardsley to his favoured role behind Shearer and had a flat back four, McDermott talked to Beardsley about it. "A leaf out of Kevin's book," he said.

At the ground he had a brief chat then Cox gave the team talk. "It's his strength," McDermott said. "He's done them for years, I've never really done them. He's very witty, he certainly gets the lads going."

Newcastle did start well with Clark going close before, after 15 minutes, Beardsley slid a long pass into the inside-left channel. It was Steve Staunton's to claim but Shearer muscled him out of the way and shot under Mark Bosnich's body. If the keeper was unhappy with that, he was furious six minutes later as he slipped in clearing the ball allowing Clark to chip cleverly past him from 25 yards. Shearer had given Bosnich a slight tug as he shaped to clear but it still seemed an unfortunate error. "I think Kevin tripped him," McDermott said.

"Terry Mac's black-and-white army" rang out from the Geordie hordes. But his Newcastle are as porous as Keegan's. Dwight Yorke had already gone close and now he pulled one back after a series of errors. Mistakes by Philippe Albert and Darren Peacock gave away a free-kick from which Alan Wright, unmarked, found Yorke, also unmarked.

Villa now moved Staunton into midfield (Gareth Southgate dropped back and marshalled Shearer) and he created an equaliser for Savo Milosevic. Next the Serb ran into the area but, with a tight angle and only his right foot to shoot with, was going nowhere when Albert brought him down. Hislop saved the day then and later as Yorke again broke free.

"We can still win the title. We won't change much, but hope not to concede as many goals," McDermott said. If Newcastle can introduce Villa's organisation (though they were initially disjointed on Saturday), they will be formidable.

Whose task will it be? A personal belief is that McDermott and Cox will hold the job to the end of the season when Bobby Robson will take over having himself been supplanted at Barcelona by Louis van Gaal. Alternatively Keegan may find, as Kenny Dalglish did, that the break will recharge his batteries enough to want to return.

And if he did, would they want him? A backlash has started with increasing comment on both his expensive failure to win the title and the manner of his exit.

Yet the revival he inspired generated much of the money he spent - and many signings retain their value. The second charge is harder to defend. He owes Newcastle's fans an explanation. It would be very disappointing if that comes, in return for a large cheque, in a tabloid exclusive.

At the moment they would welcome him back but, with the trust gone, the love affair will never be the same again. Football lost something special last week, this match was a fitting valediction.

Goals: Shearer (15) 0-1; Clark (21) 0-2; Yorke (38) 1-2; Milosevic (51) 2-2.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton, Tiler; Nelson (Scimeca, 33), Southgate, Townsend, Wright; Johnson; Milosevic, Yorke (Joachim, 66). Substitutes not used: Hendrie, Farrelly, Oakes (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie, Clark, Batty, Elliott; Beardsley; Shearer. Substitutes not used: Barton, Ferdinand, Kitson, Crawford, Srnicek (gk).

Referee: G Poll.

Bookings: Villa: Johnson.

Man of the match: Shearer.

Attendance: 39,339.