Football: Shearer given a hero's welcome but Beardsley is not forgotten

Newcastle United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Online
It was clear that Alan Shearer was back for business the moment he stepped on to St James' Park, at 2.35pm on Saturday. There was no acknowledging wave, not even a token smile as "Shea-rer" echoed round the Tyneside ground again.

The pounds 15m man just put his head down and proceeded through his pre-match warm-up with the earnest look of a bank manager settling down at his desk for the day. Not until he headed back for the dressing-room did he take his mind off the job ahead and break into a smile, and even then only because Peter Beardsley welcomed him back to the office with a hug and a handshake.

It was the first piquant snap-shot of the afternoon. The last came as the players left the pitch, the Toon Army chanting Beardsley's, not Shearer's, name.

Beardsley may be a Wanderer these days but he is the finest player to have pulled on a Newcastle shirt, in living memory at least, something that was not forgotten on an afternoon of happier returns for Kenny Dalglish, one year into his management mission on Tyneside, and for Shearer.

It was a travesty of natural justice that Beardsley, on his 37th birthday yesterday, should be obliged to reflect on a losing return to the ground he graced in two golden spells. The Bolton team he captained were much the better side in what was, cruelly, their eighth successive Premiership fixture without a victory.

But that unfortunate fact, and even the fortunate materialisation of Newcastle's first win in nine league games, seemed merely incidental. English football was no longer shorn of its Shearer.

It was 25 weeks since the dank August day that England's centre forward and captain stretched out his right foot to control a Philippe Albert pass at Goodison Park, rupturing ankle ligaments and fracturing a fibula. In the process, it transpired, he ruptured Newcastle's season too. But 18 minutes of repair work on Saturday did much to patch up that particular damage.

It was painfully obvious that Dalglish was still suffering from his recent complaint - a bit of a bad side - when he called for the No 9 board and told his striking asset to get stripped. Newcastle were ahead, but only nominally so, thanks to John Barnes' fifth-minute goal, his 200th in club football.

The Toon Army were busy booming "Shearer's coming on" when Nathan Blake pirouetted round Darren Peacock and fired Bolton's overdue equaliser. Relegation clouds were descending on St James' as Shearer made his 73rd minute entrance, a scenario he could have never envisaged on the afternoon, 18 months earlier, he was unveiled in black and white as a pounds 15m prize before an all-ticket audience crammed into the Leazes End.

Beardsley could be spotted clapping as his former colleague made his entrance, and there was much to applaud as Shearer got back to business.

Mark Fish later claimed he was scared of damaging the crowning jewel of English football. "If I'd kicked him I don't know how people would have reacted," the Wanderer called Fish said. There were, however, no discernable signs of defenders holding back as Shearer strove to make his presence felt.

Indeed, so tight was the marking he was restricted to flicks and lay- offs, all executed with due neatness, until the 86th minute. Shearer met Alessandro Pistone's cross with what would have been a goalscoring header had Jimmy Phillips not flung himself into the path of the ball.

Shearer, however, was not to be denied. Some 30 seconds into stoppage time he rose to head another Pistone cross, this time across the six-yard box. Keith Branagan blocked Peacock's attempted header but Temuri Ketsbaia struck the winning shot.

The Georgian then launched into what was less a celebration routine than a wild raging fit. Ketsbaia lost his rag, and his shirt, kicking violently at the advertising boards, gesturing towards the home bench and even attempting to pull off his boots.

Both the player ("I was just happy to score") and his manager ("It just means that much to him to score") made light of the bizzare denouement but all cannot be well between the two. Ketsbaia is clearly unhappy with his lot - he has started only once in Newcastle's last 11 matches - and with Olympiakos already bidding it seems likely that he will follow Faustino Asprilla, accused by both Dalglish and Shearer of being a disruptive dressing room influence, through the exit door at St James' Park.

Shearer was in the mood to hit out, too. "There has been a lot of rubbish thrown at us from people who should be supporting us and from people who should know better," he said, with reference to Newcastle's many critics. "But we're above that," he added. "We'll get by. We'll be all right."

They probably will, with Shearer's cutting edge back at what has been the blunt end of the Newcastle team. But Dalglish is likely to use him sparingly in the coming weeks, as he did upon Shearer's return after knee ligament damage for Blackburn four seasons ago.

"It's up to the manager," Shearer said, "but I'll be surprised if I start at Liverpool on Tuesday."

The most important thing for English football is that Shearer starts against Tunisia in Marseilles on 15 June. And, after 18 minutes back in the old routine, he happily looks set fair for France.

Goals: Barnes (5) 1-0; Blake (72) 1-1; Ketsbaia (90) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-3-2-1): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Pearce, Pistone; Barton, Lee, Beresford; Tomasson (Ketsbaia, 80), Gillespie; Barnes (Shearer, 72). Substitutes not used: Rush, Hamilton, Given (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-1-2): Branagan; Cox, Todd, Fish, Phillips; Pollock, Frandsen, Sellars; Beardsley; Taylor (Gunnlaugsson, 84), Blake. Substitutes not used: Carr, Johansen, Aljofree, Ward (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring)

Bookings: Newcastle: Barton. Bolton: Frandsen, Todd.

Man of the match: Frandsen.

Attendance: 36,767.