Changing their Toon

Newcastle on their best behaviour as Souness sees Shearer spearhead his new charges to their first League victory
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The Independent Football

Graeme Souness does not officially take charge of the Newcastle United reform school until tomorrow, but he still exerted a powerful influence on the "managerless derby" as those he will direct defeated those he used to guide, Blackburn Rovers, 3-0 at St James' Park for their first Premiership victory of the season.

Graeme Souness does not officially take charge of the Newcastle United reform school until tomorrow, but he still exerted a powerful influence on the "managerless derby" as those he will direct defeated those he used to guide, Blackburn Rovers, 3-0 at St James' Park for their first Premiership victory of the season.

Newcastle set off as if every one of them was determined to outdo the others and catch the eye of the watching Scot. Look at me, sir, look at me! Craig Bellamy, the flying but at times foolhardy Welshman, led an electrifying early charge and won a corner that Laurent Robert, the flakey but at times fabulous Frenchman, swung in viciously on target. Rovers' Garry Flitcroft helpfully directed the ball into his own net. Perhaps he is keen on a transfer after Christmas.

But as the fearful and the flashy appealed to the new master for approval, Alan Shearer, the reliable head boy who finds the right answer before raising his hand, quietly underlined that he deserves his status with a powerful header from a Bellamy cross to make it 2-0 with only 12 minutes gone. However eager the Magpies were they could not possibly prolong the manic pace and by half-time they had settled for comfortable control.

They could have been 4-0 up if the referee, Dermot Gallagher, had been more sympathetic to reasonable penalty appeals but they had to wait until Andrew O'Brien completed a rare feat for him of scoring in two successive games to make it 3-0 with seven minutes left.

In theory this Newcastle team was chosen by John Carver, who was temporarily in the hot seat, but the starting elevn had the mark of Souness about them. Kieron Dyer set the tone by lining up dutifully on the right of midfield, something the departed Sir Bobby Robson had trouble persuading him to do. Past misdemeanours drew boos from the stands before kick-off, but he won over the fans at least; he left the field four minutes from the end to resounding cheers.

Souness may have insisted that the hard-man image he has carried since his playing days is no longer appropriate, but there must be a few of the inmates of the Newcastle dressing room (Dyer among them) who are worried what the future may bring. The Scottish disciplinarian has already hinted that Shearer will play for as much of his final season as he can, which would seem to be bad news for Patrick Kluivert. The Dutchman, on the face of it, is not the Souness type.

"I have always been disciplined and I would expect my players to be the same," Souness said last week. "All I would ask the players to do would be to respect their team-mates, respect what this football club is all about, and respect the people who are working on the staff."

He added, ominously for some: "The bigger the challenge, the more I enjoy it. I like to think of myself as someone who can stand up and be counted when the going gets tough. And this is a tough job."

Anyone who does not adhere to the Scot's way will learn how tough he can be. Rule No 1: Least said, Souness mended.

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