KEVIN Keegan believes Newcastle’s 2-0 Tyne-Wear derby victory saw a return to the glory days at St James’s Park – as he insisted there was no better place in the world to play football.
The Magpies secured a convincing win yesterday without ever producing a convincing performance as a first-half double from captain Michael Owen was enough to see off a surprisingly lacklustre Sunderland. Owen scored his first goal after just four minutes, with his second coming just before half time from the penalty spot and the Black Cats never appeared to recover as they failed to muster any suggestion of a comeback.
But for Keegan the day was still a special one as he argued the atmosphere inside the ground indicated the good times are on the way back for a club which has too often failed to justify the loyalty and passion of its fans.
“It is very special to win a derby match, even though we did not play well,” said Keegan, who still believes Sunderland will join them in the Premier League again next season despite the fact they are just five points off the drop zone with three games left. “We started well and got an early goal. We also got the penalty at a psychologically good time and we won the game.
“We played 50-60% compared with what we could do. Our passing was not as good as it could have been, but the attitude and endeavour was spot on. And the atmosphere was magnificent. I think we got an atmosphere like that because the supporters are happy with what we have done in the last few games rather than our performance on the day.
“I don’t care what anybody says, you can go around the world twice if you like and you would not get an atmosphere like that anywhere else. During the game Terry McDermott turned to me and said it was just like the old days. He’s probably right, it used to be like that every week as the fans came into the ground motivated and happy because of what they had seen last time.
“The players here have not seen the atmosphere like that because of the season we have had. I told them they are the best in the world and you can earn an atmosphere like that every week if you keep these results coming. In the last five minutes or so I was just soaking that atmosphere up.”
Although Newcastle are far from a one-man team, the post-match discussions were once again dominated by Owen and the proposed talks regarding a new contract. The England international has still not given a definitive answer as to whether he intends to stay, although there are plenty of positive indications in his general behaviour, while Keegan is confident he will agree to become the long-term figurehead of the side.
Keegan said: “I think he will he stay. He likes it here and we want him here. He is the most important signing we have to make. He is a key player, a leader who leads by example. I think the fans are seeing the very best of him and they like what they see. I’m delighted.”
And Keegan, who was joined in the dressing room celebrations after the game by owner Mike Ashley, believes it would be stupid to start talking about who will arrive in the summer if Owen is allowed to leave. He added: “It would be foolish to search the world for players and not keep the ones who are proven and have the character needed to play for a club like this. We have to keep the quality we have.
“The fans know a great player here. They like their heroes to get sweat on their shirts, like Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley. Michael is no exception to that. If they don’t like him now they never will. They had to learn to love him because of the games he has missed with injury, but I’m sure they won’t have a bad word said about him now.”