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Nov 22, 2008

Kinnear helps Newcastle find their level

Could it be that a change of mindset is more important for Newcastle than a change of owner?

Such a notion would send a shiver of anger down the spine of Newcastle supporters whose hatred for owner Mike Ashley will never fade, but after securing a point against the Premier League favourites at Stamford Bridge, those desperate Geordies were given a glimpse of what is possible without their Messiahs Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer.

You get the feeling it will be impossible for Newcastle to move forward unless they are once again walking in 'Shearer Wonderland' or worshiping at the temple of 'King Kev', yet the reality is those two characters are only considered to be the answer to all ills in their minor North East territory.

Indeed, if proven managerial heavyweights Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger had a moment of weakness and accepted the post of Newcastle manager any time soon, there may still be some Geordies unhappy that Super Al or King Kev were not in charge of their deluded tribe.

Only this week, Shearer has been linked with a heroic return to Newcastle, but they clearly don't need him this result proved Kinnear's down to earth realism is far more effective than untested fantasy. Cutting out the expectation that has so often weighed down this proud football club is crucial to their hopes of progress, so the time has come for Geordies to kick their addictions and realise they could be better off without the ex-heroes.

Kinnear has stated his belief that no manager will be fully accepted at Newcastle unless his name is Alan or Kevin and while he is respectful of the Geordies beliefs, he knows they are misplaced. After all, we are talking about a coach who has failed to win a major trophy at any level of the game after nearly 20 years of trying and a fine ex-striker who is an improving TV pundit. Are they really worth pining for?

Even though the definition of 'success' can be a little different to the dictionary version when you support a team that has not won anything domestically since the 1950s, Kinnear has highlighted what is possible in a matter of weeks at Newcastle when the romantic dreams that weigh down the club are stripped away.

The ex-Wimbledon boss was showered with abuse and ridiculed in all quarters when took on the job no-one wanted following Keegan's latest walk-out in September, yet his brand of no-nonsense old school management was just what this club required. From day one, Newcastle have been far more effective under their Irish boss than they were during Keegan's second Newcastle reign, yet that fact will be overlooked in Geordie eyes.

If owner Ashley had any sense, and that is very much a point for debate, he would hand Kinnear a contract until the end of this season right now and let the unfortunate souls who eventually buy the club of him sort out the mess, but you suspect the free-swearing Joe will be left in limbo for some time yet.

The likes of Damien Duff, Danny Guthrie, Jonas Gutierrez, Nicky Butt and Martins have been revived under Kinnear's hard-work philosophy that has not even tried to pander to the Geordies who love Keegan's propaganda. "I'm doing it all for the amazing Newcastle fans," he used to gush, and they duly welled up with emotion.

Kinnear's legacy will be a Newcastle side that has rediscovered its heart. If the shambolic team Kinnear inherited were sent into the Stamford Bridge lions den a few weeks ago, they would have been swept aside with ease against a Chelsea side who can be unforgiving against feeble opposition. This is a club that has long been feeling sorry for itself and that air of gloom had descended on the players.

At least they now have a little pride back in their performance and while the plan of playing Obafemi Martins up front alone in front of a five-man midfield spearheaded by Michael Owen was negative, it frustrated Chelsea from the off.

Newcastle were very nearly undone as early as the eighth minute as a neat cross from Florient Malouda picked out Frank Lampard in the box, whose header brought a fine one handed save out of Shay Given. In truth, Chelsea dominated the first half of this game, but so long as the score line remained blank, Kinnear had a right to be content.

Newcastle's most promising moment of the first half came as Gutierrez launched a powerful burst down the flank and his cross so nearly found Martins in the box, yet there was only one side who could be satisfied as the first half whistle blew and that was Kinnear's visitors.

Joe Cole was denied the opening goal after he was adjudged to be offside nine minutes after the re-start and Lampard again went close after a typical burst from the midfield, yet the feeling of frustration was growing around Stamford Bridge as wave after waves of Chelsea attacks failed to yield the breakthrough.

In fact, Newcastle held on for the draw with a degree of comfort that will have alarmed Chelsea boss Scolari. "I can have no complaints because Newcastle were better than us at getting what they wanted from this game," conceded Scolari. "They only had one idea and this was to get a draw. We had one idea and it was to win and in the end, you have to say they did their job better than us. Newcastle were fantastic and deserve all the credit for this draw. If we had scored once, then maybe the game would have been so different." Kinnear managed to get through his entire press conference without swearing and was understandably pleased with his lot. "I make no apology for coming here and trying to get a point and we executed our game plan very well," said the Irishman. "We wanted to keep Chelsea playing in front of us and it worked very well because we only had long shots to deal with and not too many clear cut chances.

"Shay Given pulled off a couple of world-class saves when we needed him, but in general, this was a point we fully deserved. We put bodies in the way and nullified the threats they have all over the pitch."

Kinnear went on to reveal he will be in charge at St James' Park for another month at least as owner Mike Ashley is still locked in talks with American investors interested in taking Newcastle United off his hands. "They have not met the valuation of the club as yet, so it looks like I'll be here until the transfer window in January at least," he said.

The questions surrounding Chelsea's consistency remain unanswered as while Jose Mourinho's Blues used win games like this with a streaky goal from a set-play, Scolari's team were nullified a little too easily by a team content to settle for a draw from the off.

Still, Chelsea's problems should not disguise the re ality that Newcastle are slowly but surely rediscovering themselves after years of neglect. A stand-in manager he may be, but Joe Kinnear is living proof that life without Messrs Keegan and Shearer does, in fact, exist.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Shay Given

Ireland's No.1 pulled off a couple of fine stops to deny Frank Lampard the opening goal, while his delay in taking goal kicks frustrated Chelsea and wasted some valuable time for Newcastle.

TRANSPORT CHAOS: The London Underground's overworked engineers were booked to work on large chunks of the District and Circle line on a day when Twickenham was hosting a major rugby match and Chelsea were at home. It was an example of woeful planning from those who are more than capable of making a mess of the 2012 Olympics.

CHELSEA FANS FIND THEIR VOICE: The Insider has been less than complimentary of the muted Chelsea fans down the years, but they showed their humorous side by singing their repertoire of Dennis Wise songs early in the first half. Newcastle fans were not amused by the outburst of adulation for a Blues hero who they have grown to hate as his work as the club's Director of Football led to the demise of Keegan earlier this season. The elusive Wise was a spectator at this game.

NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Kinnear's revitalised team handled a powerful Chelsea side with comfort and all the credit has to go to the manager. He may never be cheered by the majority of Newcastle fans, but he has already shown what is possible when this club are organised by a shrewd football tactician.

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