Barnes 6, Ketsbaia 90
Bolton Wanderers 1
THE reappearance of Alan Shearer - awaited like a second coming on Tyneside - duly brought an end to Newcastle's run of eight matches without a Premiership win.
The fact that it was another second-half substitute who actually scored the vital goal seconds into injury time will seem a mere detail to supporters who went home happy at the end of a tumultuous week. Although Temur Ketsbaia's celebrations suggested that his goal represented rather more than a footnote to him, the point of the exercise was for Shearer to come back and grab the headlines.
The Bolton manager, Colin Todd, felt that the introduction of Britain's premier striker 19 minutes from the end had little direct bearing on the result, but it was the ultimate Geordie hero who got his head to Alessandro Pistone's cross and steered it back into the middle for Ketsbaia to drive it home amid the confusion that ensued.
"I was delighted with the way it went," said Shearer of his first Premiership match this season. "More importantly, we got the result that everyone in Newcastle wanted."
A result had suddenly looked a long way away when Bolton grabbed a deserved equaliser as Shearer was in the process of stripping for action. The pandemonium going on around St James' Park as his introduction drew near may have played some part in the goal, but most of the credit should go to Nathan Blake, who took a pass from Jimmy Phillips, turned neatly past Darren Peacock and put a low shot into the far corner of Shaka Hislop's net.
The arrival of Shearer was now doubly urgent and, four minutes from time, it looked as though he might persuade the afternoon to follow the script in its entirety by scoring the winner himself. Pistone's centre found him perfectly placed for the decisive header, but Phillips, given a torrid time by Keith Gillespie for most of the match, went some way towards redeeming himself by getting in the crucial block.
That should have been enough to give Bolton a draw which was the very least they merited. Despite falling behind to an early goal from John Barnes, they were often the more inventive side, but as Todd said: "You get nothing for that and I'm sick of being told how well we're playing."
With most of the attention centred on Shearer's presence off-stage, Newcastle showed that they could score goals without him when Steve Watson, their most consistent player this season, opened up Bolton's vulnerable left flank with a perfectly judged pass to Barnes, who lofted the ball over the advancing Keith Branagan for the 200th league and cup goal of his illustrious career.
Bolton, with Peter Beardsley elevated to captain on the ground where he too was such a favourite, reacted positively to that setback and could easily have been level before half-time, but chances for Blake, Bob Taylor and Scott Sellars all yielded nothing. When they did equalise, through the highly deserving Blake, it drew the ultimate reprisal in the shape of Shearer.
"It's good news for everyone in the English game to see him back," said Todd, but the time for his side to engineer a climb away from the relegation area is starting to run out. As he said: "We are not capable of turning performances into points."
In the light of Faustino Asprilla's departure to Parma, the timing of Shearer's return could hardly have been better for Kenny Dalglish, who decided to include Shearer on the bench after discussions yesterday morning. The tense Newcastle manager relaxed sufficiently after the game to permit himself a heavy dose of irony when he said: "I think the supporters were very disappointed to see him back."
Those supporters may not see too much of him too soon. "I'd be surprised if I started against Liverpool on Tuesday," Shearer said, and added that he felt England's next international would come too soon for him as well. "It's never been in my plans to be involved in that game. Whether I go down and train with them is a different matter."
Shearer said that his lay-off had been harder to cope with than his long absence with knee damage during his time at Blackburn, "because the team hasn't had the greatest of times". The immediate expectation - potentially a heavy one for him to carry - is that better times are automatically just around the corner now that he is back.
"We are big enough and strong enough to put up with what has been thrown at us - and there has been a lot of rubbish thrown at us by people who should be supporting us and people who should know better." There was one message for those critics yesterday. It read simply: "Alan Shearer is back."Reuse content