Keegan's Trent trip is stark lesson

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Perhaps it is just as well that the most immediate challenge facing Kevin Keegan and his out-of-sorts Newcastle United team happens to be a fixture against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Monday night.

It is not merely that the Magpies have stooped so low, in terms of their recent form, that a trip to the Premiership's basement club promises to provide a much-needed pick-me-up. The visit will offer a reminder of the harsh realities of life in the latter stages of European competition.

Forest, it seems strange to recall, were Uefa Cup quarter- finalists last season. They overcame French opponents to reach the last eight, but after beating Lyon and then escaping from the lion's den of the Olympic Stadium with only a 2-1 defeat, Frank Clark's men were mauled 5-1 by Bayern Munich on the banks of the Trent.

Having been outclassed for 80 minutes on Tuesday night by a Metz team that rates as not even second division in the grand European scheme of things, a sobering measure of trepidation has entered Newcastle's thinking towards their Continental adventure. As Keegan put it: "You look at the teams left and you know if we play that badly again we'll go out. For long periods against Metz we were about as bad as we can be."

Keegan at least has three months in which to revitalise his uncharacteristically languid side before the first leg of the quarter-finals. In midfield in particular, the creative spark has gone missing since the scorching victories against Manchester United and Ferencvaros in October.

The draw in Geneva next Wednesday will, alongside Newcastle's, feature the names of Internazionale, Monaco, Brondby, Schalke 04, Valencia, Tenerife and Anderlecht.

Tenerife might suit Keegan. The Spaniards are coached by Jupp Heynckes, who could be excused for conceding defeat at the very sight of Newcastle's manager. He was in the Borussia Monchengladbach teams beaten by Liverpool, and the inspirational Keegan, in the Uefa Cup final of 1973 and in the Champions' Cup final four years later.

Anderlecht, though, would hold the least fears for Newcastle. They beat the Belgians 2-1 in Brussels in August.

Whoever they face, Newcastle will have to play the first leg without the man who scored the goals against Metz, Faustino Asprilla having been yellow-carded after removing his shirt and hoisting it on a corner flag in celebration. The Colombian also pulled out of his country's World Cup qualifier in Venezuela next week after suffering a hamstring injury in Tuesday's match.

"Maybe sometimes we should give a yellow card to the ref," David Ginola said. "We have to live with celebration. That is life. Life is too miserable sometimes." It certainly has been on Tyneside of late.