Worried Keegan looks for cure

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The Independent Online
Kevin Keegan looked as drawn yesterday, if not quite so grey, as he does in that television commercial set sometime in the future in the St James' Park dressing-room.

"Newcastle Breweries announce a man of the match at the end of every game," Keegan said. "They said `the whole team' after the Man Utd match. They should have just said `nobody' on Saturday."

The pre-match press conference for Newcastle United's Uefa Cup third round return leg against Metz at St James' Park tonight was as much a lingering post-mortem. Forty-eight hours after his side's powder-puff failure against Arsene Wenger's undermanned Gunners, the Newcastle manager was clearly still afflicted by shell-shock.

"There was a lack of pride," Keegan said. "We just didn't look as though we wanted to win that game. We spent 90 minutes doing nothing.

"I was pretty low, not because we lost and not because it was against 10 men. Those things happen. But the one thing I didn't see in my team was the one thing I put plenty of into the team: flair. That really worried me. If I'm going to play with that type of player, then they have to produce it. The boys know what they've got to do. We have to erase the memory of Saturday."

There might be more than that at stake as the crestfallen Magpies seek to exploit the 1-1 draw they gained in France a fortnight ago and secure a European quarter-final place. If Keegan's men fail again tonight, they will have lost half of their season's trophy targets, not to mention the League leadership, in the last seven days.

Their run of five games without a win is Newcastle's longest since the barren spell midway through the 1994-95 season that prompted Keegan to sell Andy Cole and overhaul his squad. Seven defeats in all competitions (eight, if you count the Charity Shield) provides further statistical fodder for concern.

Going into December last year Newcastle had lost just once. "We haven't played as well this season," Keegan said. "I can only think of two outstanding performances, against Manchester United and Ferencvaros. The rest have been pretty run of the mill. It is worrying."

Tonight, Keegan finds himself in the ironic position of needing the two players who perhaps did most on Saturday to warrant demotion. Faustino Asprilla showed in Metz and against Ferencvaros in the last round the value of the European experience he gained with appearances in the Super Cup and in the Cup-Winners' Cup final for Parma. David Ginola has played in the semi-finals of all three Continental club competitions.

Ginola needs to prove his worth to his own manager on a night when English football's proud record of Franco-domination will also be at stake. In 36 years of conflict, only twice have English clubs been knocked out by French teams. The most recent was in 1977. And no one on Tyneside needs reminding that the blow was delivered, by Bastia, at St James' Park.