Keller clouds the issue for Keegan

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It takes a certain unflappability to handle the post-match interview, to keep your cool when circumstances have called for some harsh comments in the dressing room, the necessary bruising of a few egos.

The chore gets to Kevin Keegan. A heart on the sleeve type, it shows on his face, and in sharp rejoinders. I don't need this, but keep calm, you imagine him thinking.

As Newcastle's manager shouldered his way through a crowded corridor at Filbert Street, he could be heard muttering darkly about being turned over by somebody from one of the television channels. Grumpy was the best word to describe him.

Well, wouldn't you know it. Just a week after the result that had Newcastle wallowing in euphoria, Keegan found himself back with the persistent reality of life in the Premiership. How can you put five goals past Manchester United and then go down 2-0 at Leicester?

Easy. Get caught up in midfield skirmishes at the expense of passing, further reveal the shortcomings that have led to the appointment of Mark Lawrenson as defensive co-ordinator, and, especially in the case of David Ginola, react childishly to the referee's decisions. Understandably, Keegan made it clear to the temperamental Frenchman at half-time that, one way or another, he would not complete 90 minutes.

There were other factors to explain Keegan's pained countenance. The sidelining of Alan Shearer - "We were a good team before he joined us" - the brilliance of Kasey Keller in Leicester's goal and the sustained effort put in by Martin O'Neill's team.

But for Keller's gymnastics and positioning, Les Ferdinand would have made Shearer's absence irrelevant. "Looking at two of the saves made, you think about Pat Jennings and Peter Shilton," O'Neill said. Yes, they were that good, both from headers, the first before Steve Claridge gave Leicester the lead following a neat move along Newcastle's left.

Of course, O'Neill found questions easier to deal with. "I watched Newcastle beat Manchester United last week, and it was frightening," he said. "I thought we'd better show up at the wrong time like Estonia did against Scotland. They've got some terrific players and whoever finishes above them this season will win the Championship."

For O'Neill it is mainly a question of survival, and a great deal will depend on how long the energy lasts through a long and inevitably difficult season. Nevertheless, there is comfort in having taken Leicester to near half-way in the table.

That was ensured 11 minutes from time when Emile Heskey claimed Leicester's second with a goal of remarkable maturity for a player who is still well on the right side of his 20th birthday.

It showed also how rapidly a game can change, going from nearly being one thing to another. In one of many attacks that had O'Neill wondering if his watch had stopped, Peter Beardsley found Philippe Albert with an exquisite chip that should have brought Newcastle an equaliser. Albert sent an easy header wide and almost immediately the enterprising Mustafa Izzett played Heskey in with a pass that caught Newcastle square.

The youngster didn't panic. Keeping his head, he rounded Pavel Srnicek and scored with the sort of coolness that enters conversations whenever Jimmy Greaves's name is mentioned. Heskey has got a long way to go but you would not want to bet against him getting there.

Coming off at the end, Ginola was still complaining. Booked in the first half for feigning an injury, jeered incessantly by Leicester's supporters, he was an altogther different proposition after the interval. A class act until he forgets that even the very best footballers must fight for the right to show how good they are.

Goals: Claridge (17) 1-0; Heskey (79) 2-0.

Leicester City (5-3-2): Keller; Grayson, Prior, Watts, Walsh, Whitlow, Lennon, Izzet (Lawrence, 90), Taylor; Claridge (Marshall, 55), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Parker, Hill, Poole (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson (Kitson, 69), Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Lee, Batty, Clark (Asprilla, 69), Ginola; Ferdinand, Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Barton, Elliott Hislop (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: Leicester: Lennon, Taylor. Newcastle: Batty, Albert, Lee, Ginola.

Man of the match: Keller.

Attendance: 21,134.