Carroll's good tidings bring renewed hope of salvation

Stoke City 1 Newcastle United 1
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Alan Shearer is learning, even if the feeling persists that the Premier League is not the stage on which to do so. At the very least, he will have eight matches' worth of experience under his belt come the end of the season, when his fate is determined one way or another, along with his beloved Newcastle's.

Consider a few of the problems to be resolved on Saturday alone. A key striker in the plan you have been working on all week rings at 11am to announce that he has suddenly contracted a groin injury and does not want to play; after a first match in which Chelsea have outplayed you, Stoke City intend to outmuscle you; is it the right occasion to change to a completely new defensive system? Overrun for more than an hour, which substitutions do you make? And having escaped with a draw, how much satisfaction do you admit to without risking complacency?

Of course, the outsider cannot know how many of these matters the rookie manager resolved himself or to what extent he was dependent on a fleet of more coaches than National Express. Three of the latter were all miked up, Phil Brown-style, Shearer joking later that they were talking to "the big man upstairs". He presumably did not mean Mike Ashley, the club's owner.

Intervention, divine or otherwise, came with the introduction 20 minutes from the end of Andy Carroll, a Gateshead lad who once worshipped Shearer from the stands and described scoring his first goal for the club three months ago as "one of my all-time life dreams come true". One of the lessons his new boss has assimilated is that managers have to spend wet Monday nights watching reserve games; which is where Shearer saw Carroll and the even younger Nile Ranger excelling last week to earn a place among the substitutes at Stoke.

With the home side having dominated and deserving to be ahead by more goals than the unmarked Abdoulaye Faye's, either Michael Owen or the equally ineffective Shola Ameobi (who lost Faye for the goal) could have been hauled off. The latter made way and Carroll, after warning Stoke with one header past a post, looped another one over the goalkeeper's head from Damien Duff's cross to prevent Newcastle dropping below Middlesbrough into the bottom two.

They were not the first to try three centre-halves against Stoke or to realise that even three are insufficient if Faye, Ricardo Fuller and Ryan Shawcross are allowed to reach the corners, free-kicks and throw-ins first.

As for Obafemi Martins and his sore groin, Shearer cannot afford at this crucial stage to fall out with a potential goalscorer, though he made his feelings known: "I wasn't too happy that I got the call at 11 o'clock, particularly after we trained all Thursday and Friday and had massages on Friday evening and there was no sign of it."

Another lesson the manager has quickly absorbed is describing a match rather differently than when perched on a Match of the Day sofa. As Stoke's Tony Pulis said: "Don't anybody kid themselves. We were the better team." Shearer decided, however, that a little kidology was justified in claiming his team had handled Stoke well for "99 per cent of the day".

Goals: A D Faye (33) 1-0; Carroll (81) 1-1.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson (Kelly, 90), Shawcross, A D Faye, Higginbotham; Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Pugh, 80); Beattie (Cresswell, 73), Fuller. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Tonge, Sonko.

Newcastle United (4-4-2) Harper; R Taylor, Beye, Edgar, Bassong; Guthrie (Gutierrez, 63), Nolan, Butt, Duff; Owen, Ameobi (Carroll, 70). Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), Coloccini, Smith, Geremi, Ranger.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Stoke Etherington, Wilkinson, Fuller, Lawrence; Newcastle Taylor, Bassong.

Man of the match: Faye.

Attendance: 24,862.