Southampton's cause yesterday was not helped by being short-handed after Jason Dodd's 37th-minute dismissal at St James' Park. But they were always second best to a Newcastle team relieved to rediscover a winning touch for the first time since last season. Defeat would have left the Tynesiders bottom of the top division for the first time in nine years. Instead, with the help of two Shearer goals, they showed the first signs of a reawakening under the guiding managerial hand of Ruud Gullit.
With 54 professionals on the staff he inherited from Kenny Dalglish, Gullit has scope for the kind of squad rotation he operated at Chelsea. He does not have the luxury of dipping into his reserves to pluck a Flo, a Zola, a Vialli - or a Hughes. But the one change he made to his starting line-up yesterday, replacing the Peruvian Nolberto Salano with the Georgian Temuri Ketsbaia, paid an early dividend.
Ketsbaia was already making his presence felt before he delivered the eighth-minute shot that led to Shearer's opening goal. It lacked power and pace, but Paul Jones failed to grasp it, presenting Shearer with a point-blank chance to show he still possesses the accuracy of a Navarone gunner, as his new boss referred to him in midweek. Shearer's shot duly hit the target, ending a spell of misfiring (nine blank Premiership matches) in which Newcastle's pounds 15m man has been more like a pop-gunner - or Poppins- gunner, perhaps - of Navarone.
With the hyperactive Ketsbaia deployed alongside Shearer and Andreas Andersson occupying his international position, wide on the right, Newcastle were a markedly more potent attacking force than they have been of late. Stephen Glass, wide on the left, helped to stretch the Southampton defence, showing some appropriately smashing first-half touches. The young Scot was denied his first goal for his new club when Ketsbaia squared the ball to him in the 39th minute, only for the hand of Dodd to block his shot on the line. The sinning Saint duly departed, and the sure-shot Shearer duly fired in the penalty.
Dave Jones turned to his bench in search of a lifeline, unleashing Matt Le Tissier and Egil Ostenstad after half-time. The former forced a fine diving save from Shay Given with a party-piece free-kick just before the hour-mark but Newcastle had the final words on the score-sheet. With a minute left, Rob Lee dispatched a right-wing free-kick and Scott Marshall, under pressure from Shearer, headed into the Gallowgate End goal that his father, Gordon, guarded for Newcastle in his goalkeeping days. Then, in injury time, Ketsbaia broke clear to shoot Newcastle's fourth.
"It was a pleasing performance," Gullit said. "But we haven't invented the wheel today." The Ruud boys, at least, did enough to get the Toon Army wagon rolling once again.Reuse content