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NEWCASTLE - Newcastle United fans are a stoic bunch, as their stalwart support for a club bereft of a domestic trophy for 55 years would indicate.
To the supporters' delight, the north-east England side are poised for a quick return to the Premier League, a promotion that could be confirmed this weekend if they win at Peterborough and third-placed Nottingham Forest lose at Bristol City.
Manager Chris Hughton, though, made it clear he would not give any hostages to fortune when he said the champagne crates would not be packed for the trip to Peterborough after his team's 2-0 win over Forest on Monday.
Hughton's caution is understandable. Nothing in Newcastle's history over the past half-century gives any grounds for complacency. One man's name comes up repeatedly in conversations on Tyneside with members of possibly the most loyal fan base in the country: Kevin Keegan, whose almost reckless devotion to the attacking game brought Newcastle within sight of the promised land in the 1995-96 season.
Keegan as a player in the 1980s had helped to take Newcastle back to the top tier. As manager he performed the same feat and at the start of 1996 he had pledged to win the Premier League and both domestic Cups.
Both Cup dreams vanished in the January chill but by January 20, Newcastle were 12 points ahead of Liverpool at the head of the Premier League and playing glorious football. The tale of their subsequent implosion was to become a weekly soap opera.
Hughton is no Keegan and his approach all season has been to play down expectations. There is also a darker side to the club's success this season. This month former England Under-21 captain Steven Taylor's jaw was broken in an altercation with teammate Andy Carroll.
Carroll, playing with black gloves, played in the following league match against Doncaster, scoring the only goal of the match and his 16th of the season.
Newcastle have closed ranks, refusing to comment on the incident. Hughton has been criticised for continuing to select the striker but the manager remains unapologetic. - Reuters