Europe route mapped out by Shearer

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The Independent Online

Newcastle United 3 Chelsea 1

Yesterday morning Alan Shearer was telling the world: "I'm not fit yet." Heaven help the Premiership when the England captain gets back in shape.

Two first-half goals at St James' Park last night took his tally for a season twice halted by surgery to 26. They also took Newcastle three points closer to a Uefa Cup place, though Shearer would be the first to concede it was no one-man show.

Indeed, Faustino Asprilla shared top billing as the black and white minstrels rediscovered their entertaining touch. He conjured Shearer's second and scored himself on what was an off-night for his striking partner in Parma's Uefa Cup winning team of two years ago, Gianfranco Zola.

With the Professional ers' Association Player of the Year trophy back in his cabinet but no Continental medal yet on display, Shearer had the Toon Army savouring the prospect of another European campaign next season when he struck in the 13th minute.

In attempting to head Darren Peacock's long ball back to Frode Grodas, Franck Leboeuf merely gave Newcastle's pounds 15m predator the scent of a goal. And Shearer duly pounced, lobbing the Chelsea keeper from the edge of the area.

Chelsea - minus Dennis Wise, Eddie Newton and Steve Clarke and with Gianluca Vialli not even on bench duty - were as off-colour as they were at Coventry last week. The change strips had been packed on this occasion and Zola packed a fair degree of power with a 25-yard volley that scorched the top of the crossbar. But it was a rare offensive bolt from the yellow- shirted Blues, who may be Wembley-bound but have now lost four successive Premiership games.

Asprilla provided Newcastle with an attacking spark behind Shearer and the out-of-sorts Les Ferdinand, and it was little surprise that the livewire Colombian was the next to breach Chelsea's disorientated defence. Flicking the ball over his marker, he beat Grodas with a clinical low finish in the 30th minute.

Asprilla supplied the third goal five minutes later, collecting David Batty's ball on the left, rounding Frank Sinclair and delivering a cross that had "another Shearer goal" stamped all over it. The downward header at the far post was a mere formality.

Grodas departed injured, to be replaced by Craig Forrest. And when Ruud Gullit strode to the apron of the pitch to introduce Mark Nicholls for Mark Hughes it seemed he might as well have thrown on a towel too.

Two minutes after the hour mark, though, Zola dispatched a right-wing corner and Craig Burley, granted the freedom of the goalmouth, beat Shaka Hislop with a diving header. The blue corner of the Sir John Hall Stand had something to shout about, albeit a defiant: "One-nil in the second- half."

Newcastle United (3-4-1-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Beresford; Barton, Lee, Batty, Elliott; Asprilla (Gillespie, 64; Ginola, 82); Ferdinand (Clark, 79), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Srnicek (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): Grodas (Forrest, 36); Sinclair, Leboeuf, Johnsen, Minto; Burley, Morris, Di Matteo, P Hughes (Myers, 45); Zola, M Hughes (Nicholls, 55). Substitutes not used: Parker, Granville.

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).