Football: Road to Euro 2000 - Newcastle finally win at Wembley
Tyneside Two do for country what Robson hopes they can reproduce for club; Andrew Longmore sees the silent assassin settle some old scores
Sunday 05 September 1999
Admittedly, Shearer's cause was aided by his marker, whose barrel-chested physique would not have disgraced a Sunday pub player, and by the abject display of Luxembourg. They were comfortably the most inept side ever to play at Wembley, but, for an afternoon at least, Shearer returned to the dominant form last viewed on video reruns of Blackburn's championship year.
Some jeers laced the cheers which greeted Shearer; but by the time he had left Wembley with the ball marking his first international hat-trick safely tucked under his arm, there was no dissent. Such is the nature of football's short-term memory. "He is resilient and determined," the England manager said. The more intense criticism, Keegan said, had gone close to character assassination. "They [journalists] have a right to their opinion; Alan has the right to do the talking on the field." Shearer's soap box could be safely stowed after half an hour, so one-sided was the debate.
If even half the rumours floating down the Tyne these past few days have been true, Shearer is not a man to shy away from a vendetta, so there was a purpose in his stride which rather belied his suggestion in the programme that words cannot hurt him. He would have needed to score all six to satisfy the grudges which have been building up like milk bottles on his doorstep. But it was a profitable source of speculation during a pointless second half to nominate a few worthy recipients for his goals.
The first, a mundane penalty thumped past the hapless Philippe Felgen, was inscribed to Graham Kelly, the former chief executive of the Football Association: "With love and thanks for your support throughout my England career. Please forward a copy of your book."
"Childish", Kelly had labelled Shearer's posturing over the Neil Lennon boot-in-the-face affair. But the goal, his 25th, put Shearer above Geoff Hurst in the list of all-time England scorers. The second goal was aimed with enough venom at the figure of one of his predecessors, Malcolm Macdonald, author of one of the more scurrilous critiques. And there's no question that the third, a tap-in from Kieron Dyer's low cross, would have winged its way to Ruud Gullit in Amsterdam. With a few crosses penned on the bottom for good measure.
With their noted sense of timing, the FA had invited Bobby Robson to be the guest of the day. Suggestions about what the new Newcastle manager said to Shearer as he moved along the line before kick-off varied from: "Don't get injured, son" to: "And what's your name?" Each England player was given a firm pat on the shoulder, but Robson's smile would have been no less broad than Keegan's at the glimpse of vintage Shearer.
"That will be a tremendous boost for England and for his club," Keegan said. The England manager will demand a repeat showing in Warsaw on Wednesday night when a team resembling the part-timers of Luxembourg in colour of strip alone, will test England's true mettle. Robson will hope that some of Shearer's international sheen will survive to greyer days at Derby and Old Trafford.
So poor were Luxembourg that little could be extrapolated from what had appeared an unbalanced line-up. Whether the third goal, fashioned by Ray Parlour and scored by Steve McManaman just after they had switched wings, made Keegan a tactical genius or international novice was open to interpretation.
Eyebrows had been raised by Parlour's initial position on the left of midfield and by Dyer's debut at right full-back. The theory, that turning inside and shooting with his right foot would be more effective for Parlour and that Dyer's pace would be best served running from deep, was given credence by early exchanges. But only when Keegan emerged from the dug- out waving his arms like a traffic policeman to initiate the Parlour-McManaman swap did England confirm superiority.
In between the pair, Shearer enjoyed his most profitable afternoon in England colours. Much of the channel-running had been delegated to the spritely Robbie Fowler, whose work received scant reward. Shearer loitered with intent in the penalty box, shadowed by the lumbering figure of Nico Funck, whose job as a bank clerk clearly involves some hefty lunches.
Dyer's fleet-footed run into the box provided Shearer's first - harder than it looked after a traumatic week, Keegan said - but it was the second that came stamped with the Shearer hallmark, a flick, a turn, a couple of paces to steady himself on to Fowler's return ball and a right-foot shot of outrageous power into the top corner. It was too good to waste on Luxembourg.
The manner rather than the statistics of the demolition pleased Keegan. Luxembourg had put two past Poland, but mustered only a couple of long- range efforts here. Aware of the more precious prizes on offer in Poland, England took their foot off the pedal in the second half, giving Michael Owen a chance to dust down his instinct for scoring goals.
Shearer has now scored five in England's last four games. "As good as ever?" a journalist asked Keegan. "If you're asking me would I pay pounds 15m for him if I needed a centre-forward, then I would," he said. "Because I believe in him." The disbelievers had to retreat into the shadows. Until late on Wednesday night perhaps.
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