Alan Shearer insists that saving Newcastle United from the drop is not an impossible job. The former England captain is yet to taste victory in five Premier League matches since taking temporary charge at St James' Park in a desperate bid to save the club from relegation.
The latest blow was Sunday's 3-0 mauling at Liverpool, where he dropped Michael Owen and then saw Joey Barton sent off for an awful two-footed lunge on Xabi Alonso.
Barton will face a fine of two weeks' wages and he will not play again this season because of a three-match ban. His future at Newcastle is now in doubt after Shearer's withering outburst at the former Manchester City midfielder's lack of self-control.
The defeat at Anfield left Newcastle third from bottom in the Premier League with three games left. Two of them are at home, against fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and then Fulham, before the final day of the season trip to Aston Villa. But Shearer maintained: "This job is not proving harder than I thought when I took over. I always knew it was a difficult job, but not impossible."
Shearer revealed that Owen was upset to be left out against his former club, but "took the decision like the professional he is". Shearer's reasoning for leaving out Owen was that he knew Newcastle would be under intense pressure and forced back against title-chasing Liverpool.
In that situation he believed that Owen, predominantly a penalty-box poacher, would have less success than the more powerful Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka.
Shearer said: "Michael Owen wasn't happy to be left out. I didn't want him to be happy. But he took it, and he has been very professional about it. That is what he is. The frustration has been that we haven't been creating chances. That's the problem. Is Martins more likely to score one from 25 yards than Michael? Probably.
"We knew we would be feeding on scraps, and we had a couple. It wouldn't have been a different story if they had gone in, but I was just trying something different. He took it the right way, [he was] very professional about it." Shearer must now raise spirits for next Monday's visit of equally troubled local rivals Middlesbrough to St James' Park. Shearer said: "The Middlesbrough game is the biggest one of everyone's career at the club now. No doubt about that."
After conceding two goals from set-pieces at Anfield, Shearer said: "I'm not griping, because we would have lost the game anyway. But the way we conceded the goals was disappointing. Two from set-pieces and one was offside. Players don't do what they are asked to do.
"I don't feel powerless, though. It is my job to put a team out I believe can do a job, but it didn't happen at Anfield. We have to forget about it, though. The Liverpool game wasn't going to save us, but the next two might.
"We have two home games next, against Middlesbrough who are in as much trouble as we are, and then at home to Fulham before the final game at Aston Villa. We have to eradicate [the Liverpool result], get rid of it, it's gone. We will work all week and get ourselves ready for a massive game next Monday against Middlesbrough."
He added: "TV replays have proved their first goal was offside, but that wouldn't have changed the match. Heads go down and you start chasing the game. And that leaves the gaps for quality players, which is what happened. It is always a big job to lift guys after something like that. But we have two massive games in front of us, and we still believe we can get out of it. It is huge against Middlesbrough, for both clubs. We are both in a real hole."