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Opinion

The Kevin Keegan Years – Back in the Premier League

2 months ago
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Following the glory of the promotion season the previous year, Kevin Keegan was busy in the transfer market in the summer of 1993 as he prepared his team for its first year in the Premier League.

Two of the team’s main sources of goals left the club, with Gavin Peacock moving to Chelsea in a move worth £1.25 million, while David Kelly dropped back down a division to sign for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Undoubtedly the most crucial signing that summer was bringing home Peter Beardsley for his second spell at the club.

Beardsley had previously played for Newcastle with some distinction for four seasons in the 1980s, playing 162 games, scoring 61 goals and setting up countless others.

Unfortunately, like a number of other players, Peter Beardsley had got frustrated at the club’s lack of challenging for honours in the 80s and spent the next six seasons on Merseyside, first with Liverpool and then Everton, winning two league titles and one FA Cup on Merseyside.

Although now 32 years old, he was still incredibly fit and Keegan identified him as the ideal foil for Andy Cole, who had been so impressive in the final push for the Division One title.

Despite the momentum of the previous season, Newcastle got off to a slow start to life in the Premier League, losing their first two games and only winning two of their first eight league fixtures. Matters not helped by Peter Beardsley missing the start of the season due to Neil Ruddock fracturing his cheekbone in a pre-season friendly.

However, Keegan’s men began to turn the corner in the middle of September with a 4-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at St James Park, with Cole notching his fourth and fifth goals of what had been a productive start to the season for him. This would start a run of seven wins and a draw from the next 10 league fixtures and when we thrashed Sheffield United 4-0 in late November, the club had risen to fourth place in the table.

The team was also now scoring goals for fun with a now fully fit Beardsley notching a hat-trick against Wimbledon, as well as Cole getting one of his own in a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Liverpool.

Then 1994 began with three consecutive victories which saw us rise to third place. Those three wins though were followed by three defeats which dropped us back down to fifth place.

But another hat-trick from Andy Cole, started a remarkable run of six consecutive victories, with the team scoring 21 goals and conceding just three. While the partnership of Cole and Beardsley continued to be prolific, goals were also coming from other areas of the pitch. Scottish striker Alex Mathie chipped in with three goals from the bench, while Rob Lee was also finding his scoring touch, netting five times in that run of victories.

Newcastle were boosted in their run to the end of the season, Keegan bringing in Ruel Fox (February 1994) and Darren Peacock (March 1994), with both deals costing the club over £2 million.

Keegan’s side were now in third place and it was a position they would never relinquish, winning four out of their last five games to finish in third place in their first season back in the top flight and claim a spot in the UEFA Cup.

The achievement was all the more incredible given that the club had been on the brink of relegation to the third tier when Keegan had been appointed just over two years previously.

Cole and Beardsley rightly took most of the plaudits scoring a remarkable 65 goals between them in all competitions, but there were so many impressive performers across the board, as the team rightly earned the nickname ‘The Entertainers’ for their attacking style of play.

Rob Lee was central to the team’s play from the middle of the park and was starting to attract the attention of England, ably supported by Paul Bracewell, while youngsters like Lee Clark, Steve Watson, Robbie Elliott and Steve Howey all made a positive impression on the first team. Barry Venison and John Beresford were consistent performers at the back, while Malcolm Allen scored an impressive seven goals in 12 games before an ankle injury ended his season and eventually his career.

The biggest disappointment in terms of signings was Mike Hooper proving a major disappointment after arriving from Liverpool for £550,000.

All in all though it was a remarkable season which had Newcastle fans dusting off their passports for an assault on Europe the following year.

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