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MISS-LETOE; AND TYNE!; Kev title rivals lifted by Forest.

Arsene Wenger and Roy Evans got the best Christmas present possible last night - a helping hand in the Championship race.

It came from arch- rival Kevin Keegan, whose Newcastle were involved in their first scoreless stalemate in 74 matches stretching back to March 1995.

It leaves Arsenal still four points clear at the top and five points ahead of Newcastle.

And the bookies immediately made Wenger's team second-favourites behind Evans' Liverpool as the greatest title battle for years unfolds.

Newcastle have now picked up only six points from six games - and that's not the kind of form that will see the Championship flag flying over St James's Park at the end of the season.

Keegan confessed: "I will count this as a point gained, rather than two points lost. Forest had the chances to polish us off.

"They battered us for one spell in the second half, and you would have to say we were lucky to avoid punishment."

But Keegan, able to field Alan Shearer and

Les Ferdinand together for the first time in ten matches vowed: "We will get better - you can depend on it.

"This was hardly a typical 0-0 draw, and nobody should overlook the fact that we had several opportunities to score as well."

Forest manager Frank Clark will never understand how his side, who move off the bottom after joining Coventry on the 10-point mark, failed to send Keegan home crying into his Newcastle brown ale!

Clark groaned: "We had enough openings to win two or three games, never mind one. But our confidence in front of goal is completely lacking.

"I couldn't fault my players for commitment or passion. I won't let them claim they were unlucky, though. Sticking the ball in the back of the net is the most important part of football, so if we can't do it, then there are no excuses.

"We simply need one match when the ball bobbles in off someone's shin, or the back of somebody's shoulder. That's all it will take to raise our spirits."

Ferdinand, back in action only 23 days after suffering a depressed cheekbone, declared: "If we are going to end up as champions, we should win this sort of match. But I'm delighted to be back, and now it's up to me and Alan to start doing the business."

Skipper Peter Beardsley could so easily have snatched victory for Newcastle six minutes from time, when he twisted inside on a typical run from the left only to lift his shot over the bar.

That was nothing compared to Forest's wasteful attitude. Alf Haaland missed two great chances and Dean Saunders another.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Moore, David
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 10, 1996
Words:440
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