Football: Shearer in case for the defence

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 3

Dabizas 39, Lee 42, Speed 59

Chelsea 1

Di Matteo 77

Attendance: 36,710

THERE was no Shearer madness at St James' Park yesterday, just sheer relief. The England captain was on his best behaviour, a veritable Mary Poppins, as Newcastle secured the three points that will keep Premiership football on Tyneside.

Alan Shearer failed to make his mark on the scoresheet, though he supplied the second of his side's goals, a diving header by Robert Lee. Nikolaos Dabizas and Gary Speed were also on target as Newcastle United - or Newcastle Nil, as they have been re-named by James Alexander-Gordon in recent weeks - rediscovered their goalscoring powers of old.

For only the second time this season, the Magpies managed to plunder more than two goals in a Premiership match. They did so against a Chelsea team that could barely be described as half-strength. Gianluca Vialli took the field without five of the players he picked to face Blackburn at home last Wednesday - Gustavo Poyet, Andy Myers, Graeme Le Saux and Dan Petrescu - as well as Gianfranco Zola, Frank Sinclair and Mike Duberry. Chelsea's players were elsewhere, not to mention their collective mind, which was presumably somewhere between Stockholm and Stuttgart.

Not that Newcastle were quick to take advantage. Indeed, it took them 20 minutes of plodding endeavour to produce anything remotely threatening. Even then, Dmitri Kharine was spared any toil by Laurent Charvet, who blocked the path of Dabizas' goal-bound header. It was all anodyne stuff, until the 26th minute. Stuart Pearce caught Vialli with a chest-high challenge, the Italian retaliated and Keith Burge duly took note of their names.

Newcastle struck in the 38th minute, Lee dispatching a right-wing free- kick into the heart of the Chelsea penalty area and Dabizas, a towering presence at both ends, scoring his first goal for the club with a bludgeoning header. Three minutes later it was 2-0. Shearer drifted out to the right and crossed to the far post, where Lee stooped to head past Kharine. With that, the three points were in effect in the black and white bag, but Speed made sure on the hour mark.

Roberto Di Matteo beat Shay Given with a curling shot in the 77th minute but the Toon Army were already celebrating by then. Twelve months ago they cheered Dalglish and his players on a lap of honour after Newcastle's last match of the season, a 5-0 home win against Nottingham Forest having secured qualification for the Champions' League. There was another lap at the final whistle yesterday, though hardly of the honour variety. "It was a lap of appreciation for the support we have had this season," Dalglish said.

The Newcastle manager took the pitch-side microphone to offer his apologies for a near-calamitous league campaign. Shearer, however, was not in repentent mood. Questioned about the alleged kicking of Leicester City's Neil Lennon at Filbert Street on Wednesday night, he replied: "I said all along it was an accident. I am sure Neil Lennon would say the same. I was not born with the skill of a Best or a Pele. My game is all about commitment. I'm not going to change now. I'm like my dad; he doesn't have to work but he gets up at six in the morning and comes back at six each night. That's commitment, and that's the way I am too."