Tue, Oct


One of the last decisions Kevin Keegan made before walking out of Newcastle was to change his goalkeepers.

Out went Pavel Srnicek after 19 games and 21 goals conceded.

He was replaced by Shaka Hislop who had waited patiently on the sidelines since the second match of the season.

Then he agonisingly made the mistake that cost United victory at Charlton last Sunday.

It is the first positive change since Mark Lawrenson stepped in to take over the coaching of Newcastle's defence.

But just as important as Hislop to Newcastle's championship chances, now that Keegan has gone, will be the man relaunching the keeper's career.

Peter Bonetti has come in to give technical advice and instruction in the most specialist job of all.

As Bonetti says: "Manchester United didn't really start to monopolise the domestic honours until they signed Peter Schmeichel.

"He immediately made a big difference."

Bonetti works twice a week at Newcastle, pushing Hislop and Srnicek through punishing two hour routines.

He added: "I'm stunned by Kevin leaving. Everyone is. In fact the town seems in mourning."

Bonetti was a legend at Chelsea, but was forced to understudy Gordon Banks on the international scene.

Now he is again involved with England, as goalkeeping coach to the Under- 21 side, under Peter Taylor's management.

Hislop cost Newcastle pounds 1.575 million in August 1995.

At 27 he is a raw talent and shot stopper with great reflexes, but sometimes lacks the presence to deal with the strongest front players in the Premiership.

AFTER a clean sheet against Leeds, his first away game at The Valley, saw him beaten by Mark Kinsella from 30 yards.

He held up his hands on that one, even though he saw the ball late through a cluster of defenders.

Now Bonetti has stepped in to school him. He knows Hislop well.

He worked with him at his previous club Reading and tipped him then to go to the very top.

Last season when Newcastle went so close to becoming champions, Hislop was a regular until just before Christmas. Then he made way for Srnicek, and didn't get his place back again until April.

The Czech was first choice at the start of this season but carried the can for the Charity Shield humiliation at Wembley, where Manchester United won 4-0.

Hislop got in for the first match of the season against Everton, but was then dropped again.

He waited four long months to prove he can do the job for so long a problem position for Newcastle.

His recall against Spurs on December 28 pleased the fans, and he made Newcastle's first goal with a clearance down the middle.

If Bonetti can smooth off Hislop's rough edges, restore the team's belief and confidence in him, Newcastle will have solved one of the weaknesses that has consistently hurt the club.

Today against Aston Villa, Hislop goes into a vital match with Keegan now golfing in the Spanish sunshine. Perhaps he'll have to show again that he's good enough to stay in.

Bonetti's job has been made more difficult by the fact that Newcastle no longer have a reserve team.

It has meant "The Cat" had little opportunity to see Hislop in match conditions.

But Hislop says: "I always felt I would be ready when the call came. It was a question of keeping mentally fit as well physically prepared.

"I kept up my confidence by telling myself I would get back into the team. So I bought a new house on Tyneside."

HISLOP'S return could not have been better choreographed.

The man named after an African king, Shaka Zulu, now has the opportunity to reach for the stars.

He says: "My parents thought it best that I had an African name, because of my African forefathers.

"I've also got an English name, Neil. But my parents have always called me Shaka.

"You have to know where you come from to know exactly where you are going.

"Which is why its important for me to identify with my cultural roots."

Says Bonetti: "It was a great honour to be asked by Kevin to come to Newcastle.

"But more and more clubs are looking on goalkeeping as a specialist job. I only wish I'd had one when I was playing.

"Shaka is in the side now, and I believe he's got the potential to be the very best.

"I've seen the improvement in him, how he has developed. Perhaps all he needed was a little more confidence. And there's no doubt in my mind he's going to get better.

"One of the things I will be working on will be kicking clear from back passes.

"Sometimes the service a keeper gets from his defensive players is terrible.

"So we try to familiarise them with the ball at their feet.

"But keepers have to learn to relax when kicking clear.

"I instruct them to make it simple and quick. We talk about it all the time because it is very important.

"Shaka is 6ft 5in tall, and can look cumbersome. But he has good feet. What I do is get the keepers in a circle and we work with three others so there are six altogether, and shout numbers.

"They then receive the ball and have to juggle the ball four, six or eight times to improve their touch and get them used to controlling it.

"But a goalkeeper coach goes through the whole range of specialist disciplines.

"We work on speed, rhythm, handling, timing, and positional play.

"The work is hard and concentrated, but I believe it is very necessary.

"Something else we do is to practice work on one against one situations.

"Too many keepers rush out and commit themselves and pay the price."

BONETTI is 55 now, grey haired but as slim and supple as ever.

He goes on: "I've been involved in this since 1983, and for me its everything.

"Life is great and I love every minute of what I do. We are out in all weathers, all surfaces, the groundsman had to clear some snow off the pitch last week for us to work.

"I've been at the club for a month now, and I'd like to think its working well."

If it means United winning the Premiership then Bonetti will know the aches and pains, the knocks and scrapes, the cold, and sometimes the heartache will have all been so worthwhile.

As for Hislop? Maybe he'll become the star he has always longed to be.