IN THEIR January sale, the Newcastle United club shop was offering a generous discount on black and white slippers, but despite recent reports of his demise it will evidently be some time before Alan Shearer slips his footballing feet into something more comfortable.
The England striker's image emerged as a prescient choice to adorn the cover of the match programme, as his contribution won the match for Newcastle, runners-up to Arsenal in last year's FA Cup. Shearer's chest, one sparsely adorned with winners' medals in his career so far, set up a brilliant first goal for Gary Speed and he later scored what proved to be the winner against an insubstantial Crystal Palace side.
"It's incredible how things can slip out of your hands," was Ruud Gullit's post-match comment, one which alluded to Newcastle's recent run of injuries and poor results rather than his goalkeeper's sending-off. To a neutral it appeared to be an open-and-shut case of careless hands when Shay Given rushed from his area to intercept a through ball intended for the swift Chinese midfielder, Fan Zhiyi. Given made contact with the ball some yards outside his area, and the assistant referee, Mr Webb, alerted referee Mike Reed to a handball.
The Premiership's most card-happy referee flourished the second of the afternoon's eight cards before 35,000 self-appointed fourth officials. The decision outraged the baying St James' Park crowd, but it emerged as a fair one, as Given clearly played the ball with a stiff arm rather than his chest, as he unconvincingly claimed at the time.
Given's sending-off and the subsequent goal - scored before his replacement, Steve Harper, had touched the ball - shaped a previously messy game. Newcastle briefly lost their heads amid the ensuing furore, allowing Clinton Morrison to elude the impressive Warren Barton for the first time in the match. His accurate cross was headed in firmly by Lee Bradbury.
Palace looked promising in the first period - their wing-back Jamie Smith drew Palace's right flank together neatly, while the midfielder Simon Rodger harried Dietmar Hamann and Aaron Hughes in the centre. What they lacked, unfortunately, was coherence, persistence and self-belief, especially in a disunited last 45 minutes.
After Speed's splendid goal early in the second half, Newcastle looked likely winners, a view Shearer's strike confirmed. Barton's cross drifted over the head of Sun Jihai, who had been fooled by the England striker's shrewd, faded run to the far post. Shearer calmly brought the ball down and finished, right-footed, from six yards.
In last year's third round, Ian Rush scored a rare Newcastle goal to start their cup run against Everton, while Shearer's semi-final strike against Sheffield United took them to Wembley. However, with their latest attacking totem, Duncan Ferguson, absent for up to two months with a groin injury, Newcastle should hope that the FA Cup draw is as generous with lower-league opponents this season as it was last.
Goals: Bradbury (18) 0-1; Speed (48) 1-1; Shearer (69) 2-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Barton (Georgiadis, 83), Dabizas, Solano, Charvet; Speed, Hamann, Hughes, Glass (Harper, gk, 15); Shearer, Andersson. Substitutes not used: Pearce, Ketsbaia, Brady.
Crystal Palace (5-3-2) Miller; Smith, Mullins, Moore, Tuttle, Sun Jihai; Rodger, Fan Zhiyi (Linighan, 75), Foster (Jansen, 50); Morrison, Bradbury (Bent, 69). Substitutes not used: Petric, Digby (gk).
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).
Bookings: Newcastle: Barton, Speed. Palace: Sun Jihai, Foster, Fan Zhiyi, Mullins, Linighan. Sending off: Newcastle: Given.
Man of the match: Barton.
Attendance: 36,536.Reuse content