THE Toon Army mustered to hail the third coming of The Messiah, only to discover that it takes more than a sprinkle of stardust to win Premiership football matches.

The very fact that Newcastle's starry-eyed owner Mike Ashley saw fit to sack Sam Allardyce and lure King Kev out of his self-imposed exile was proof in itself that there are major problems on Tyneside.

Nevertheless, the Geordie "nation" expects big things when the talismanic Kevin Keegan is on the scene - a hero in his playing days, a legend in his first spell as manager - and they genuinely believed that the good times would start rolling again at St James' Park on Saturday.

What they didn't factor into their equation of expectation was the opposition.

Gary Megson, a former Newcastle player himself, jokingly referred to Wanderers as the "pantomime horse" - suggesting they'd be playing a bit-part role on a stage where there was room for only one star. In the event, they had the resilience and the staying power of a thoroughbred steeple-chaser.

Focused and determined, they gate-crashed Special K's homecoming party and might even have come away with all three points, if Shay Given hadn't got a foot in the way of Jlloyd Samuel's shot in the last seconds of normal time.

It was undoubtedly the best chance of a game that, from a neutral's as well as a Newcastle viewpoint, failed miserably to live up to the occasion. But, for Megson and his marauders, it was a moral victory.

Ignored, even dismissed as an irrelevance, in the build up, Wanderers went about claiming only their third away point of the season with a disciplined, hard-working performance that reminded Keegan how tough you need to be to cope with the demands of the Premiership - tougher even than when he walked out of Manchester City almost three years ago, smarting from a home defeat by Allardyce's Wanderers.

The Whites were chasing a UEFA Cup place at the time; now they are locked in a battle for survival. But they are still nobody's mugs, not since Megson arrived in October.

They are still in the transition phase and we will not know until the transfer window closes at the end of the month just how equipped they will be to save their Premiership skins. No Anelka now, of course, and repeatedly on Saturday it cried out for a man of his pace and penetration - even the invention and inspiration of El-Hadji Diouf who, for at least the the next couple of weeks, will be leading Senegal's bid for African Nations Cup glory.

Had they possessed a cutting edge, Newcastle's notoriously suspect defence wouldn't have enjoyed such a relatively easy ride.

But, on the evidence of his work so far in the transfer market and with substantial funds still available, don't bet against Megson solving that thorniest of problems before the window closes.

Wanderers have already spent more than £8million of the £15million they banked for Anelka's transfer to Chelsea and first impressions are that they have spent wisely.

Tamir Cohen has already shown a feisty nature that will put some much-needed bite into midfield, but the Israeli international spent much of Saturday evening watching his fellow newcomers, Gretar Steinsson and Matt Taylor, make even more impressive debuts.

Icelander Steinsson - rated at AZ Alkmaar as the best right-back in the Dutch league - promised that he would not be fazed by the atmosphere and he was true to his word. He didn't put a foot wrong, defended stoutly and intelligently (Damien Duff hardly had a kick) and repeatedly made himself available going forward.

Taylor's transfer from Portsmouth cost Wanderers an initial £3.75m with "add-ons" that could eventually take it to £5m, making him the second most expensive signing in the club's history. But that's what you pay for quality these days and the 26-year-old left-sider has that in abundance.

All he needs now is games, judging by the way he tired after an hour and a quarter of honest endeavour. Unlike Steinsson, who was playing regularly for AZ before making his £3.5m switch, the former England U21 international started only three league games for Pompey - hence his desire for a move.

Both should prove excellent acquisitions by the current regime, but credit to previous managers: there is still a good smattering of Allardyce players and, although Sammy Lee's Reebok reign was a brief one, he left a legacy in the shape of Andy O'Brien.

Signed for just over a million in August, he arrived with a fair-to-middling reputation - ex-Bradford, Newcastle of course, and a spell at Portsmouth that started good but tailed off miserably. But the down-to-earth Yorkshireman - respected by his peers but rarely given the accolades his professionalism deserves - has been Wanderers most outstanding defender this season. And, much to his own personal delight being that he was back on Tyneside, he was overwhelming the game's most impressive performer. Nothing fancy, just honest-to-goodness, sensible defending of the kind Megson loves. Even Lubomir Michalik, who could be heading for Leeds before the month is out - provided Wanderers can sign at least one accomplished centre-back, was inspired into a strong, brave performance that suggests that, while he might not yet be of Premiership standard, he's certainly a cut above the League One mark.

Together they snuffed out Michael Owen, who looked woefully out of touch, and coped so well with the threat of the awkward but unfit Shola Ameobi that the only time Jussi Jaaskelainen was stretched was when he tipped a nuisance of a cross from James Milner over the bar.

With all the hype surrounding the coronation of King Kev, Wanderers braced themselves for a blitz. It never materialised and, to everyone's astonishment, they were the ones who called the early shots.

Keegan put forward excuses: fatigue after the FA Cup win in midweek; suspensions and African Nations Cup calls robbing him of key players; Mark Viduka injured and Joey Barton . . . well! But he rightly acknowledged that Wanderers didn't deserve to lose the game.

He might not have been quite so magnanimous had Samuel converted his late chance, but that would have been something of a travesty.

Wanderers had the only three on-target efforts of the first half, but they were all weak efforts and long before Nolan went off with 23 minutes left - he'd been under the weather the night before and was on a final warning from referee Wiley - they'd settled for a containing game, which they played to perfection.

"We came here to spoil the party and I think we did to a certain extent," O'Brien said, "and we might have nicked something more in the end. Jlloyd was unfortunate because Shay pulled off a great save.

"In all honesty, everybody expected us to get battered - the media certainly - but that wasn't the case and it's credit to all the lads that we kept a clean sheet and took an important point."