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Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan will put another flurry of speculation behind him as he attempts to spring a major shock on Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Magpies entertain Manchester United at St James' Park on Saturday evening with all bets off as they attempt to end a run of nine Premier League games without a win.

It would come as a huge surprise if they were able to do that against the reigning champions at the end of a week that has seen insiders deny rumours owner Mike Ashley has put the club up for sale amid suggestions former striker Alan Shearer has been asked to head a consortium to buy the billionaire out.

However, few would have expected what happened the last time Keegan sent a Newcastle side out against United at St James' on October 20, 1996.

The Magpies' 5-0 victory that day, which came only months after they were pipped to the title by Ferguson's men, was one of the high points of Keegan's first spell in charge, and having guided Manchester City to 3-1 and 4-1 wins over their arch-rivals since, he has fared better than most against the Scot.

Keegan said: "I don't know what my record is like against Sir Alex, but I don't think it is as bad as some managers. I'm sure it is not the worst.

"They have got the form and we have not, so we will see if we can surprise a few people. We have had a little bit of a break and we have worked the players a little bit harder.

"We gave them a couple of days off, but they are back now and fresh - and we know what is ahead of us on Saturday. I have been pleased and we are building up to what is a very big game for us."

However, Keegan, who was famously drawn into Ferguson's mind games on live television as his club's 1995-96 title challenge faded, knows only too well what lies ahead of his confidence-starved players this weekend.

Their last league win came at Fulham on December 15, and they have taken only three of the 27 points they have contested since.

Keegan is still waiting for his first win since his return, and with winnable encounters against Bolton and Middlesbrough on their own patch having slipped by, his side's need is increasing by the week.

United bounced back from their derby defeat by Manchester City with an FA Cup fifth-round demolition of Premier League leaders Arsenal on Saturday.

They will arrive on Tyneside having had to negotiate a tricky Champions League trip to Lyon in midweek, but there is little doubt they will do so determined to close the five-point gap at the top of the table.

Newcastle have not played since they surrendered a 1-0 lead at Aston Villa to lose 4-1 on February 9, but Keegan is convinced his players will be ready.

He said: "Two weeks without a game has been a long time, and the last game against Aston Villa was not a good performance. Man United will have had two games by the time they play us, so we have little things going for us."

Keegan will hope keeper Shay Given has shaken off the groin injury he picked up at Villa Park, although he will not make a decision until Friday, while striker Obafemi Martins remains a doubt with the ankle problem he suffered on African Nations Cup duty with Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the club is refusing to dignify claims it is being offered for sale by commenting upon them publicly despite persistent rumours in the city.
 

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i've a bad feeling about this game... it'll either be a masterclass display from us or a shock result... hopefully we can carry our form and go unbeaten for the rest of the season!!
 

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hahaha.....keegan can plot all he wants but in my opinion nothing is gonna go wrong....unless we have a bad result in the lyon game!!!!!
 

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If we get an early goal I think we'll go on to win comfortably by 2-3.

The Newcastle fans are their own worst enemies at times - if things aren't going right they get on the players backs, which just makes it even harder for them.
 
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