Football: Dalglish's anniversary saviour cuts it fine

Simon Turnbull reports on a happier end to a harrowing week on the Tyne
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IT WAS, after all, an afternoon of happy returns at St James' Park yesterday. Kenny Dalglish celebrated the first anniversary of his managerial arrival at Newcastle by watching his stuttering side win for the first time in nine Premiership matches.

It was by no means a party performance by the low-key Magpies, but the result was sufficient to disperse, for the time being at least, the relegation clouds that have been gathering over Tyneside. There was icing on the cake too - Alan Shearer's happy return.

Shearer's second coming at St James' was not as a pounds 15m trophy prised from the clutches of Manchester United but as a substitute saviour. He was summoned from the bench in the 73rd minute, as Nathan Blake celebrated the equaliser that was the very least Bolton deserved for their commendable efforts. He cut it fine, with 30 seconds of stoppage time already on the watch, but Shearer pierced through the gathering gloom with the towering header that paved the way for Temuri Ketsbaia's winning shot.

The pointedly aggressive manner in which the Georgian kicked the advertising boards and flung his shirt into the Gallowgate End suggested all might not be well between Dalglish and the other substitute he introduced in the closing stages.

More importantly for Newcastle, and for England, all was well with the talismanic Shearer. He might not have hit the goalscoring target, as he did when he returned after a knee ligament operation as a Blackburn substitute at St James' in August 1993, but showed sufficient glimpses of his particularly striking talent to brighten significantly the new year prospects of the latterly downcast Dalglish and of Glenn Hoddle too.

Dalglish, at least, was not left to blame "those with pens and paper", as he did in his fit of midweek madness. It was neither the men from the Independent on Sunday nor from the Siam Sport Daily who shot hopelessly wide 10 minutes into the second half yesterday. It was Jon Dahl Tomasson. The trouble for Dalglish, and one that he has been reluctant to acknowledge, is that the most damning words have in fact been penned by mutinous members of the Toon Army. Confirmation of that was written large in black and white in the Evening Chronicle on Thursday night - a double-page spread of readers' letters featuring such headlines as "United an embarrassment", "Dalglish is a disaster" and "Excuses not good enough".

That the mounting criticism had got to Dalglish was evident on Tuesday when he called his press conference to berate the professional pen-pushers and was underlined on Thursday when he summoned the same members of the fourth estate to accuse the departing Faustino Asprilla of being a disruptive dressing-room influence.

The pressure was relieved when John Barnes shot Newcastle into a fifth- minute lead yesterday. Chants of "Kenny Dalglish's black and white army", strains of which had been in the air since kick-off, rang round the ground.

The noise soon petered out. It quickly became clear that this was not going to be an overwhelming D-Day - Dalglish Day, that is. Newcastle reverted to their static type of late to such a statuesque extent Bolton should have shattered them long before Shearer's arrival.

The sale of Asprilla, a popular remnant of the cavalier Keegan days, but a luxury item since his hat-trick humbling of Barcelona, has left Dalglish with pounds 16m to spend on recruits. On yesterday's evidence, even with his pounds 15m man back, he will need to spend it quickly, and wisely. Signing a Terrier is one thing. What Newcastle need is truly pedigree players.