Newcastle do it Keegan's way

FA Premiership: Toon Army see team play in the image of their old manager with a mixture of flair and frailty
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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 2

Yorke 39, Milosevic 52

Newcastle United 2

Shearer 16, Clark 21

Attendance: 39,339

AS IF to pay their respects, Newcastle United produced as postscript to the Kevin Keegan era a performance of pleasure and pain that perfectly captured the spirit of his time with the club. It also confirmed to his successor as manager that which needs to be addressed if they are to become Premiership title material.

Thrillingly, vibrantly, with that attractive attacking flourish they raced to a two-goal lead in the game's first quarter through Alan Shearer, a large part of Keegan's legacy as his last signing, and Lee Clark. Two Geordie boys had soothed the wounds of the week. "We knew they would be spirited," Brian Little, the Villa manager, said afterwards. "They can be frightening in that last third."

Then, as familiar accompaniment, evidence of the defensive discomfort that has cost them so dearly in the past year was laid bare. First Dwight Yorke profited, then Savo Milosevic and in a rousing match Villa were level. But for Shaka Hislop keeping out his fellow Trinidadian Yorke's weakly struck and poorly directed penalty, Newcastle would have surrendered all three points.

As it is, with not one of the top eight teams winning yesterday, they remain in the championship picture after a match neither could really afford to lose. For Villa it was a third consecutive draw against a top- four team. Next Saturday they take on the leaders Liverpool at Anfield.

Terry McDermott, the Newcastle caretaker manager, as befitting Keegan's faithful retainer dwelt not on the goals conceded. "It was a very emotional day," he said. "The team put on a tremendous performance after all the trauma and turmoil of the last week." Yes, he insisted, Newcastle were still capable of winning the title.

"There's only one Kevin Keegan," and "Stand up if you love Keegan", the Newcastle fans sang defiantly at the outset. "Keegan's effed off home" and "Stand up if you've won eff all" was the response from an unsympathetic Holte End.

Newcastle, playing 4-5-1 because of so many injury victims - Les Ferdinand on the bench with knee and ankle trouble - appeared inspired by the former and shrugged off the latter with Shearer heavily involved in the outstanding start that spoke of the players' relief at being on a football field.

There seemed little danger when he chased the always lively Peter Beardsley's pass forward but Shearer had timed his run well to get ahead of Steve Staunton, whom he muscled off the ball before side-footing a shot past Mark Bosnich.

Soon it was two, again from what looked an innocuous situation. Bosnich gathered a cross comfortably enough but as he rounded Shearer to drop- kick downfield, he slipped on the turf made greasy by drizzle and the ball went along the ground only to Clark, some 35 yards out. Calmly and promptly, he lifted the ball over the last defender, Staunton, and into the net with the goalkeeper prostrate.

"I thought Shearer had tugged him a little bit," Brian Little said. "Maybe it was Kevin Keegan that tripped him up," McDermott countered. "I said that we would have 12 men today, didn't I?"

It was joyous stuff for the Geordies but it was not to last - how sadly appropriate - as Newcastle always looked vulnerable in defence, Hislop appearing particularly edgy. Early on, he had backed away as Yorke chased Carl Tiler's through-ball and the striker should have done better than hit the side netting.

Hislop did look more assured in turning aside Staunton's low shot after Yorke's long run had panicked the Newcastle defence, but it came as little surprise when Villa pulled a goal back. A free-kick by Gareth Southgate, returning after six weeks' absence with an ankle injury, reached Alan Wright wide on the left and from his low cross Yorke was unmarked to turn home comfortably from a few yards out.

After half-time Villa were soon level. Staunton, who had changed positions with the quicker Southgate in a sound tactical switch, played a one-two wide on the left, hurdled Steve Watson's challenge and sent in a low cross- shot which Hislop could only push out to Milosevic who had a simple tap- in.

Newcastle were contributing to their own problems, Hislop colliding with an error-prone Philippe Albert as he cleared Darren Peacock's alarming pass back.

Perhaps the Belgian was still slowed when he sent Milosevic sprawling in the penalty area soon afterwards. Hislop continued the rehabilitation of his confidence, however, by saving Yorke's spot-kick and the rebound from close range.

Thereafter it could have gone either way, with Hislop saving from Yorke, who overstretched and was forced to leave the field, and Newcastle retaliating with shots by Keith Gillespie and Peacock that Bosnich beat out. Both seemed content to escape defeat, however.

It was fitting. In wooing Bobby Robson, Newcastle may have been paying homage to Catalonia lately, but this was homage to Kevin Keegan.

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