Football: FA Cup 5th Round: Shearer savours the saviour role

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 1

Shearer 22

Tranmere Rovers 0

Attendance: 36,675

THERE was no place in the history books for Tranmere at the end of their 90 minutes at St James' Park yesterday. A first appearance in the FA Cup quarter-finals proved beyond the grasp of the Welsh Cup winners of 1935. But only just.

John Aldridge watched frustratedly from the bench as his team of First Division strugglers subjected Newcastle United to yet another uncomfortable ride on the road to Wembley. Kenny Dalglish's side stumbled onwards, thanks to their pounds 15m man.

Having spared Newcastle's blushes in the last round, Alan Shearer emerged as their goalscoring saviour once again. His fourth goal in three ties dragged the Magpies through to the last eight, by the very claw-ends of their feet. If their name is written on the Cup it must be in crayon. As in the third round at Everton and in the fourth round against Stevenage, Newcastle never showed the glint of potential trophy winners.

Not that Dalglish could care. "Performances in Cup ties are irrelevant," he said. "It was good enough to get us into the next round." It was tough, though, on Tranmere and their manager, who scored one of the goals that gave Dalglish his last FA Cup final success, as manager of Liverpool in 1989. "We deserved a draw," Aldridge lamented.

It was only the second time Tranmere had reached the fifth round. On that occasion, 30 years ago, Johnny Morrissey scored one of the goals which halted their run at Goodison Park. Yesterday his son, John, was on the left wing for a Rovers team who from first to last whistle had more than a prayer.

They almost delivered the first blow in the opening minute, Dave Challinor showing why he has a place in the Guinness Book of Records with a throw- in from half-way that did not quite match his measured best of 46 metres but gave David Kelly a good sniff at the Newcastle goal.

It was into the very same Leazes End net that Kelly shot the goal that saved Newcastle from Third Division football in 1992, a late winner against Portsmouth described by Kevin Keegan as "good enough to win the European Cup". To the audible relief of the Toon Army, the Tranmere captain was unable to produce a finish of similar quality. Kelly hooked his shot wide but Challinor's throws continued to trouble the home guard.

Not until the 20th minute did Newcastle show anything like Premier pedigree. They did so, unsurprisingly, in the shape of Shearer. Dispatching an angled drive from the right edge of the area, the England centre- forward was thwarted by Tranmere's coveted 18-year-old goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen, a lifelong Sunderland fan whose proudest possession is said to be the videotape of the 1973 FA Cup final featuring Jimmy Montgomery's heroics.

Eight minutes before the break the teenage prodigy conjured a save half as good as Montgomery's celebrated Wembley double against Trevor Cherry and Peter Lorimer, springing skywards some 15 yards from goal to push a Robert Lee chip over his cross-bar. By then, however, Simonsen had been beaten. Shearer's header bounced down and over him after Newcastle's most striking asset rose to meet Alessandro Pistone's cross from the left in the 22nd minute.

It was the only damage the hosts managed to inflict upon Tranmere, for whom Morrissey, John McGreal and Andy Parkinson all came tantalisingly close to equalising in the second-half. David Batty, though, twice threatened to make an impression on Morrissey's face with his studs - without finding his name into Gerald Ashby's book. "I was disappointed with the referee," Aldridge said. "He treated us as second-class citizens." That, however, was more than Newcastle managed to do.