Pressure on Keegan to contain the foreboding

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

Another hurdle cleared, albeit with heavy clout, and all Newcastle United have to do is maintain a consistent stride to the line. No need to strain, no cause for even a backward glance. And yet...

For all the points and admiration generated by an unblemished home record in the Premiership, the fragility of communal faith on Tyneside is as conspicuous as the team's League position.

It was evident in their play against the bottom club, Bolton, and in the tormented murmurs of their supporters. No club has had a more loyal or vociferous following through years of mediocrity, but mass anxiety can be as powerful a force as mass conviction, and now the championship beckons they cannot contain their foreboding.

Crucial, therefore, will be the influence of the manager, Kevin Keegan, during the final, nerve-racking weeks of the season. His chirpy countenance has been as much a feature of Newcastle's ascendancy as their expansive football, but in recent weeks the tension has exposed a more sensitive side to his nature and it was apparent again after this match, when he was questioned about his reported interest in Parma's Faustino Asprilla.

While elimination from the cups has focused attention and resources on the championship, it has heightened expectation. It is a widely held believe that the pressure buckled Alex Ferguson and undermined Manchester United's campaign in 1992.

Keegan's assessment of this victory was measured and fair. His side, without Les Ferdinand, for the first time, Steve Howey and Keith Gillespie, created a sufficient number of chances to have put the match beyond Bolton's hopes of salvaging a draw. A two-week break could not have come at a better time for Newcastle.

A lengthier time out, enforced by suspension, might also serve David Ginola well. Gallic genius or 10-centime ball player? There were grounds for both schools of thought here. The referee, Keith Cooper, was unimpressed by Ginola's histrionics and the player will do well to remind himself Newcastle need his artistic flair with the ball when he returns.

The contribution of Peter Beardsley is a more stable factor and, at 35, his energy remains an inspiration. He might have had a hat-trick, but his 100th League goal for Newcastle, after setting up the first of this match for Paul Kitson, was good enough.

Bolton drew encouragement from their performance and ought to have added to Gudni Bergsson's equaliser. But for an injury which forced Sasa Curcic to depart early in the second half, they may have had the necessary guile to supplement their boundless spirit.

Goals: Kitson (9) 1-0; Bergsson (20) 1-1; Beardsley (38) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Barton, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Watson, Lee, Clark, Ginola; Kitson (Huckerby, 73), Beardsley. Substitutes not used: Elliott, Holland.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Green (McAnespie, 87), Bergsson, Stubbs, Phillips; Lee, Sneekes, Sellars, Curcic (Paatelainen, 54); McGinlay, Blake (Todd, 75).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Bookings: Newcastle: Beresford.

Man of the match: Beardsley.

Attendance: 36,543.

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