Shearer and Robson out to prove a point

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The Independent Online

Alan Shearer was not a happy man as he left the Ulleval Stadium in Oslo last night.

He was even less pleased some five hours later as he left Manchester Airport on a three-hour coach journey back to the north east after heavy snow prevented him and his team-mates from touching down on Tyneside.

The reason for Shearer's anger, initially at least, was Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson's decision to leave him sitting on the bench in Norway as his side laboured to a 1-1 UEFA Cup third round, first leg draw with Valerenga.

United's captain simply does not like missing games - last night's was only the fourth of the club's 36 to date this season - and his reaction to Robson's decision, of which he was informed a matter of hours before the game, was entirely predictable.

"I was disappointed and angry that I did not start, but what can I do?" he said as he was mobbed by journalists after leaving the dressing room. "That was the manager's decision."

Asked by Norwegian reporters if he was looking forward to starting the second leg at St James' Park on Wednesday night, he added: "Yes, just like I was for the game out here.

"Obviously, I would like to start next Wednesday. As to whether I'm going to play, you'll have to ask the manager."

Robson's response was equally predictable as he explained that he had left Shearer out to keep him fresh for Sunday's Premiership trip to Portsmouth, a decision which would have looked astute had Newcastle built upon their first-half display to secure what should have been a comfortable victory.

In the cold light of day, both have a point, although both perhaps could have handled the matter better.

Shearer need not have travelled if there was no intention to play him, although that could have appeared as a slight to the Norwegians and suggest a measure of complacency.

The 33-year-old is also on two bookings in the competition and a third would cost him a suspension, although there is an argument that perhaps he could have done with getting his ban out of the way if United are to progress in the competition.

On the other hand, Robson needs to give Shearer's deputies and those of some of his other big names - Laurent Robert and Kieron Dyer were also named only as substitutes - some competitive football, and with two important games inside four days, this seemed an ideal opportunity.

The manager might have explained his actions earlier in the piece; Shearer might have kept his disappointment between the two, but while the spat has thrown the relationship between manager and captain into the limelight, divorce is not on the cards.

Shearer will return to the firing line at Fratton Park and for the second leg, and will do so with Robson's blessing. And while bruised feelings may need to be soothed, the professional way in which both men approach their jobs dictates that there will be little significant fall-out.

"I was just trying to rest him for Sunday," said Robson. "I thought we should play the match without him.

"The game is over two legs. If it had been a one-game affair, he would have played, but it's a two-game affair.

"Shearer has played all the time - Robert has played a lot and so has Dyer, and we still put out a very good side.

"That said, it didn't click as well second half as it did first half, so I'm bound to get these questions at 1-1.

"If we'd won 2-0, I wouldn't have been asked these questions. But if Shearer had been in the front positions, Shearer himself wouldn't have been able to stop what they were doing down the right because Shearer's a striker, he's not a left-back."