Sky Sports Vault
Kevin Keegan had form for losing seven-goal thrillers in his first spell as Newcastle boss, but his Manchester City side suffered that fate at St James' in October 2004. Robbie Elliott, who scored for the Magpies that day, recalls the game.
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 10/01/14 9:48am
After 20 games played, no team in the top half of this season's Premier League table has conceded more goals than Newcastle United and none has scored more - by some considerable distance - than Manchester City.
By that token, betting on a 4-3 scoreline in Sky Sports' Super Sunday encounter in the North East (available at 80/1 City or 100/1 Newcastle at the time of writing) might well be a lucrative investment. Such forecasts are usually foolhardy, however; and it is likely anyone speaking of such an outcome during the interval when the two clubs had played out 45 dreary first-half minutes on Sunday 24 October, 2004, would have been laughed out of St James'. But then again, surprises often lie in store on Tyneside.
Events in the preceding couple of months had certainly resulted in a shock to the system for Robbie Elliott, speaking to Sky Sports this week from the west coast of America where he now works as a performance coach and expert with Nike and US Soccer. Three years after Sir Bobby Robson had brought him back to his native Newcastle from Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer, Elliott's mentor was unceremoniously sacked by Freddy Shepherd. The ambitious Magpies had dropped out of the top four in 2003/4, and Robson had then failed to win any of his first four league games in 2004/5.
"Sir Bobby was the one that brought me back to Newcastle so I have had so much loyalty and respect for him," said Elliott.
"It was tough, because it was so early in the season. Everything about it seemed strange - we had just had the summer build-up, the pre-season training, the signings, and then he was sacked four games in. It was no time at all. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but looking back, I am still trying to fathom out why it happened at that point.
"It is great in a way to think that we were disappointed with fifth place, which we were because we had a very good squad - but the next season did not work out like everyone had hoped."
After John Carver had won his sole game in caretaker charge, Graeme Souness arrived from Blackburn Rovers to take the reins - and enjoyed an immediate impact, claiming seven wins and two draws in his first nine games in charge.
"There was always a buzz around the club anyway," added Elliott, "but it always helps when you get on a run of form. When a new manager comes in, it is a time when players pick themselves up, because they have got to prove to the new boss that they are good enough. We went through that with Graeme."
However, there were early signs of unrest, too. In his sixth game in charge, at Charlton Athletic, Souness hauled off goalscorer Craig Bellamy after just 66 minutes - and the attending TV cameras picked up the Welshman's sweary reaction to being substituted, directed at his manager. The press picked up on the dissent immediately and throughout the next week, during which Newcastle won 1-0 at Panionios in the UEFA Cup, it was headline news.
"The press are always looking for an angle, and there was something there between Graeme and Craig certainly," admits Elliott. "But the other angle to the Newcastle v Man City game on the Sunday was Kevin Keegan returning to St James' again.
"The way the game was, ending 4-3, you expected to look up and see Kevin in our dugout instead. You think back to those days when he was Newcastle manager and it just seemed fitting that he was the opposition manager that day."
That dull opening period was soon forgotten as Laurent Robert opened the scoring with a 49th-minute free-kick and within nine minutes, David James had fouled Stephen Carr in the box resulting in a penalty which Alan Shearer slammed home.
But Shaun Wright-Phillips - the game's outstanding performer - soon pulled a goal back after latching onto Danny Mills' pass down the right channel, and when referee Steve Dunn decided that Nicky Butt had fouled Robbie Fowler in the box, the latter brought City level at 2-2 midway through the second half, sliding in the spot-kick to Keegan's obvious delight.
There was no let-up in the action though, as two minutes later Elliott got a glancing header to another Robert set-piece and sent the ball past James, onto the far post and eventually over the line (aided by a combination of Richard Dunne's desperate defending and Shearer making sure). If Keegan had been happy earlier, Elliott was now ecstatic - and out came the chicken dance.
The defender explains: "The celebration was originally hatched with my old team-mate, Andy Hunt, on an off-season holiday in 1994, just for a bet! With Andy being a centre forward and me being a full-back, and not really a starter, I gratefully accepted the wager that whoever netted first the following season would have to use that as a celebration. And in August of that year, I came on at Leicester and scored! After that, the celebration just stuck."
But on 77 minutes, Wright-Phillips scored again when Newcastle failed to defend a long throw from Sylvain Distin properly and it looked like the game would end in a draw - only for Bellamy to pop up at the death with a cleverly-taken volleyed winner from Olivier Bernard's pass.
"The way Kevin used to play was attack loaded," says Elliott, "and we wanted to keep on that run under Graeme because we could not afford any more dropped points at that stage. Fortunately, we got Craig's goal in the last minute to finish it off."
Souness was understandably delighted with the victory but staggered at his side's defending, telling reporters afterwards: "I had to remind my players I have had open-heart surgery - and there is no way I can have this every week."
Newcastle rose to seventh on the back of that victory, but their form soon deserted them and they ended Souness' debut campaign in 14th, far from the top-four finish that Shepherd had attempted to engineer by sacking Robson in the first place. Despite the arrival of Michael Owen in summer 2005, there was no discernible improvement the next season - and the Scot was also dismissed in February 2006.
"We had a treacherous run of injuries," said Elliott. "We became disjointed and it was not a great surprise when Graeme's time came to an end."
Fast forward back to the present day, and Newcastle find themselves in eighth as they prepare to entertain free-scoring title hopefuls City. After such a disappointing summer transfer window (the loan signing of Loic Remy from Queens Park Rangers aside), Toon fans are hoping for new arrivals but Elliott says: "The best bit of business would be to keep what they have.
"Hopefully they can sign Remy and keep hold of the likes of Cabaye. Last season, we could not cope with the injuries that we had but this time we have been pretty lucky so far. And I believe when we have got our first XI out on the pitch, we can match up to anyone.
"At this moment in time, things are good. I know a lot of people are unhappy about the Mike Ashley regime but to be honest, if you look at the current team, you cannot really complain too much. We cannot go out and spend loads of money so we need to support what we have. The main group of players we have is a very strong group."
Away from his day job and his stateside support for Newcastle, Elliott's big passion is the 'Bike for Bobby' charity cycling event which returns to the city on Sunday, 8 June.
In autumn 2012, Elliott and his friend, triathlete Phil Gray, completed an epic 3,500-mile ride across Europe, visiting Robson's former clubs Benfica, Porto, Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven before returning to Newcastle via Fulham and Ipswich Town.
A local event followed in 2013 which raised even more funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and with fitness plans among the New Year resolutions of many people, Elliott says this summer's forthcoming cyclosportive challenge is attracting even more interest.
"There are three distances - 40, 70 and 125 miles - and all the information is on the website," he explained.
"I've been blown away by the support of the riders who get involved. Everyone's been touched by the fight against cancer in one way or another, and there are so many different ways of helping. The response we get from these charity events is just phenomenal - and it's a really fun day out too."
Watch Newcastle v Manchester City live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Sunday, with coverage underway from 1.30pm.