Football: Saints first to feel blast

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 4 Southampton 0

AFTER THE fog on the Tyne in Kenny Dalglish's time at St James' Park, the wind of change is starting to blow through Newcastle United.

Of the 18 men who either wore black and white on the pitch or sat on the home bench on Saturday, only two - Ruud Gullit and Steve Clarke - are sure they will not be swept away in the coming weeks. The gusts may even be felt in the seats of power at St James', high up in the Milburn Stand in the directors' box.

Talk of a takeover is in the Tyneside air. Sony, it seems, could soon be in charge, instead of father and sonny, Sir John and Douglas Hall having held a controlling interest in the club for six years.

On the pitch, Newcastle could soon be shorn of their Shearer, despite Gullit's assertion yesterday that the pounds 15m man "is not for sale". Gullit said: "I want Alan Shearer to be part of my plans for Newcastle United," but added, perhaps significantly, "I don't know if he wants to be part of it."

Shearer refused to comment on anything over the weekend other than his return to goalscoring form on Saturday. But, with Gullit needing to finance the wholesale changes he wants to make, it seems likely that Newcastle's most saleable asset, a seemingly unsettled figure even before the departure of Dalglish, would not be averse to making a fresh start away from his home city.

And there would be no shortage of clubs willing to give the England captain that fresh start. Internazionale, Chelsea and Aston Villa are reportedly keen to open the bidding, and with a wanted list that features Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu, Rui Costa, Dion Dublin, Gianfranco Zola, Franck Leboeuf and Dan Petrescu, Gullit is keen to bring reinforcements to the Toon Army.

The Toon platoon called up to face Southampton on Saturday is likely to be unrecognisable from the one on duty when Newcastle end their Premiership campaign at home to Blackburn in May. They gained their first win of their season with some assurance, if not style, but did so against an out-of- sorts Southampton team reduced to 10 men for more than an hour and still point-less at the foot of the table.

That Newcastle climbed from second bottom was due in no small measure to Gullit's deployment of Temur Ketsbaia as Shearer's striking partner. The Georgian's play may not always be as polished as his pate but his direct, hyperactive style can open up defences.

On Saturday it led Newcastle to three of their goals: in the eighth minute, when Ketsbaia's fizzing 20-yard shot was spilled by Paul Jones and Shearer pounced from close range; six minutes before half-time, when he set up Stephen Glass for the shot Jason Dodd handled to give Shearer a penalty; and in injury time, when he jinked past three defenders before planting a low angled drive into the right corner of the Southampton net.

It begged the question of not just for how long Shearer might be around to be partnered, but of where Stephane Guivarc'h sits in the new scheme of things at Newcastle. Uncomfortably, would seem to be the answer.

Goals: Shearer (8) 1-0; Shearer pen (37) 2-0; Marshall (og 89) 3-0; Ketsbaia (90) 4-0.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Watson, Charvet, Albert, Pearce; Andersson (Gillespie, 59), Lee, Speed (Barton, 66), Glass; Ketsbaia, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Guivarc'h, Pistone, Perez (gk).

Southampton: Jones; Hiley, Dodd, Marshall, Benali; Ripley, Palmer, Howells, Bridge (Ostenstad, h-t); Hughes (Le Tissier, h-t), Beattie (Lundekvam, 39). Substitutes not used: Gibbens, Moss (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Newcastle: Shearer; Southampton: Hughes. Sending off: Southampton: Dodd.

Attendance: 36,454.

Man of the match: Ketsbaia.