Keller brings Newcastle down

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 2

Claridge 17, Heskey 79

Newcastle United 0

Attendance: 21,134

No Shearer, no record. There may be no connection, but without him Newcastle United not only failed to register their eighth consecutive Premiership win but lost to unfancied Leicester City, a defeat that cost them the leading position in the table.

Leicester played with admirable diligence. Their tenacity in midfield, where no ball was either unchallenged or given away lightly, was a wonder to behold. The goals, after 17 and 79 minutes, were the result more of defensive lapses than creativity but were clinically taken. Yet the essential difference between the sides, the one that the Leicester manager Martin O'Neill suggested afterwards allowed his troops some self-belief, was the goalkeeping of Kasey Keller. He made a series of marvellous saves which involved all the qualities and skills his trade demands - smart reflexes, alert positioning, bravery.

Twice Newcastle might have gone into the lead in the opening quarter of an hour. On the first occasion only Keller's great, late dive to his right-hand post denied them as Les Ferdinand's header seemed destined to make its way over the line.

At that stage in the proceedings it seemed that Newcastle might not miss Alan Shearer after all. But suddenly some defensive hesitation on their left flank allowed an exchange of passes between Neil Lennon, a diminutive colossus throughout, and Simon Grayson. Newcastle's defence failed to clear and Steve Claridge just managed to drive the ball from close range past Pavel Srnicek.

The script having thus been heavily rewritten so early, Newcastle's rhythm was disrupted. Their passing lacked fluency and so did the game. This was to Leicester's advantage. Referee Graham Poll never missed an opportunity to book a player, and if the most unfortunate recipient of his apparent addiction was David Ginola, Newcastle also carved out their own difficulties with some untimely, unnecessary tackles. Whether it was the absence of Shearer, out for at least five weeks after a groin operation, may be debatable, but they were not at ease.

But they did not surrender their form or their run lightly. Ginola came out in the second half and demonstrated the beautifully acceptable face of his game with some sublime dribbling. Turning and crossing, he found Ferdinand performing his hanging-in-the-air act but again Keller's reflexes were up to it. Leicester tackled, Newcastle passed. So it went on. Ginola's free-kick was deflected off Darren Peacock, the goalkeeper saved. Robert Lee crossed from the right, the galloping Ferdinand charged towards goal, but Keller went down and stopped the shot with his feet. And with 10 minutes left the American's colleagues sealed their unlikely victory.

Newcastle had introduced Faustino Asprilla and Paul Kitson for Lee Clark, perhaps a surprise as the nominal replacement for Shearer, with Peter Beardsley at the front. Muzzy Izzet pushed a short ball through for the dedicated Emile Heskey. A suspicion of offside failed to deter him and he skipped gaily round the stranded Srnicek.

O'Neill was gracious in victory. He paid handsome tribute to Newcastle's wonderful skills but pointed to the virtues of hard work and of Keller.

Kevin Keegan thought Newcastle had created enough chances to win. Of course they missed Shearer, he said. They may miss him a lot more yet.