Football: Unkindest cut from Shearer

Newcastle United 2 Shearer 45 pen, Ferdinand 61 Blackburn Rovers 1 Sutton 85 Attendance: 36,424
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The Independent Online
David Batty headed down and Colin Hendry handed Alan Shearer his goal at St James' Park yesterday. Unfortunately for Ray Harford, the Blackburn manager, what would have been a successful combination for Rovers at the start of the year merely pushed them towards the foot of the Premiership table. The final score from Highfield Road, where Coventry beat Leeds, confirmed that the champions of 1995 had indeed hit rock bottom.

Shearer scored from the penalty spot a minute before half-time and set up Les Ferdinand for the goal, on the hour, that proved enough to help Newcastle to third place. In doing so, the pounds 15m man answered the Blackburn supporters who chanted "Judas" whenever he touched the ball and, perhaps more significantly, left Harford's future in increasing doubt.

Chris Sutton's second goal since his comeback last Monday, a fine 20- yard drive five minutes from time, came too late to save the visitors. With one point from six Premiership matches, defeat for Blackburn at Brentford in the Coca-Cola Cup on Tuesday night would stretch the Ewood Park board's faith in their manager to the very limit.

Shearer, for one, gave his old boss a vote of confidence. Asked whether Harford was the best man for the job Blackburn now have on their hands, he replied: "Without a doubt. Ask the players. They love and respect Ray and that's half the battle."

The battle for Rovers yesterday looked like a losing one from the moment the referee, Keith Burge, pointed to the penalty spot. Up to then, with half-time approaching, Harford's men had succeeded in frustrating Newcastle. Then Batty headed into the Blackburn area, the ball struck Hendry on the hand and, though the offence seemed unintentional, the Rovers captain and his side were obliged to pay the penalty.

Shearer revealed that Tim Flowers had phoned him on Friday night to say he would know which way to dive if Newcastle were awarded a penalty. The Blackburn goalkeeper guessed the right way but Shearer's shot beat him to the bottom left-hand corner.

Five minutes into the second half Steve Howey appeared to handle a Kevin Gallacher shot, albeit again without intent. But Burge ignored the protests and ten minutes later, with Blackburn forced on to the offensive, Newcastle exploited one of the gaps they left at the back. Flowers saved Robert Lee's drive but Shearer headed down from Ginola's corner and Ferdinand's side-footed shot trundled in off the inside of the post.

With that, Blackburn's hopes in effect died. However, Graham Fenton's introduction 11 minutes from time spread inevitable fears of a home collapse. Judging by the reception he got, the Whitley Bay lad is still persona non grata on his native Tyneside because of the two goals he scored as a late substitute which halted Newcastle's championship charge in April.

The England under-21 player supplied the pass from which Sutton scored. But it was Kevin Keegan's turn to do the consoling afterwards. "Blackburn are not a bottom of the league side," the Newcastle manager said. Unfortunately for Harford, the black and white of the Premiership table shows otherwise.