Football: Shearer's worry

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The Independent Online
Newcastle United 1

Dalglish 4

Sheffield Wednesday 1

Rudi 80

Attendance: 36,698

IN A bewildering match of the lowest quality Ruud Gullit rang the changes, dropping David Batty, but it made little difference as his team once again disappointed. Gullit was not helped by a hamstring injury which forced Alan Shearer to sit out the second half. Gullit said it would probably force the England captain to miss Wednesday's game against the Czech Republic: "He has a hamstring problem," he said. "If he couldn't play here he can't play for England."

As Newcastle had not scored for five hours and 43 minutes of Premiership football Gullit's changes, which gave Keith Gillespie his second start of the season, were understandable. Indeed, many at St James's Park would say that had he voluntarily withdrawn Shearer, sullen and subdued in his sixth consecutive scoreless League game, that too would have been entirely understandable.

Initially, though, the changes seemed to work as Newcastle scored within 240 seconds. Warren Barton, roundly booed when the team was announced, sent in a weak 25-yard shot which dribbled, then deflected on to the chest of Wednesday's new keeper Pavel Srnicek, warmly applauded after his seven years service at Newcastle. It bounced neatly to Paul Dalglish, who scored his first Premiership goal from six yards.

If it took a slice of luck to break the duck, Newcastle needed several more to prevent Wednesday levelling the score, Barton at one stage hooking off the line. In between Shay Given had denied Niclas Alexandersson.

Guillit ended Batty's sojourn on the bench after 34 minutes and replaced the perplexed Dietmar Hamann.

The second half began in eerie quiet as Newcastle reappeared without Shearer. The air of unreality was immediately added to when a female streaker jiggled unchallenged around the pitch before jumping on Carl Sarrant. It was Sarrant's first touch as he, too, was a half-time substitute, appearing for the new England under-21 player Andy Griffin.

Wednesday staved off the sixth consecutive away defeat with an 80th minute goal. Barton and Laurence Charvet dallied indecisively, the latter deflecting Petter Rudi's shot into the net.

"Despite all our injury and illness problems, they were never going to score," said Gullit. Danny Wilson disagreed. "It would have been a travesty if we hadn't got something out of it," he said.