'Legless' Shearer celebrates

Newcastle United 2 - Southampton 1
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The Independent Football

Shearer's Bar, the biggest pub in Newcastle, located at St James' Park and with a capacity of 1,200, spent its first Saturday in business celebrating the 400th career goal of the man it honours.

Shearer's Bar, the biggest pub in Newcastle, located at St James' Park and with a capacity of 1,200, spent its first Saturday in business celebrating the 400th career goal of the man it honours.

So what if Alan Shearer's legs had gone after an hour? That was understandable after two months absent, injured, from what may be his final season. In any case, the 34-year-old's penalty had set Newcastle on course for their win, while his mere presence - harrying, pushy and vocal, if not quick - had arguably tipped the balance.

That is not to say Newcastle were not dominant. They were, absolutely so in the opening 40 minutes. They might feasibly have scored five by half-time but for Paul Smith, whose debut in Southampton's goal only arrived because Antti Niemi was injured in the opening minutes.

There were also encouraging signs in United's new-look defence, with Celestine Babayaro and Jean-Alain Boumsong making respectable home debuts, and Titus Bramble nicking his first Newcastle goal in the Premiership before Peter Crouch scrambled one back.

However, for all Newcastle's superiority, of pace, possession, confidence and chances, it was not reassuring for the home fans that they were still biting their nails at the end when David Prutton wasted an opportunity to equalise. It was no coincidence that Southampton had rallied after Shearer left the pitch.

Graeme Souness realises his captain's importance, not so much for what he does, but for what he represents. Figuring out how to replace him could yet make the difference between Newcastle reasserting their "big five" status or meandering in midtable.

"[Shearer] is the man for the big occasion," the Newcastle manager said. "Standing in the tunnel, we have got some young players and when you have got someone of his stature, it helps them enormously. He is a leader in every sense of the word."

As for Southampton, Harry Redknapp inherited a side low on confidence and undermined by serious injuries, not least to Michael Svensson and Matt Oakley. The former was the team's defensive rock whose own playing future remains in doubt, the latter a creative midfielder who exemplified a lot of what made Southampton successful back in 2003, since when they have won only seven League games.

Redknapp's excuses have gone in early, with moans on Saturday about the toughness of recruiting without big money, which will not go down well with his chairman, Rupert Lowe. Niemi's injury and a knock to Kevin Phillips will add to his woes, even as the Southampton manager seeks to sign Nigel Quashie from Portsmouth today. Harry wants an inspirational, battling leader, apparently. But then, who does not?

Goals: Shearer (9) pen 1-0; Bramble (38) 2-0; Crouch (42) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor, Bramble, Boumsong, Babayaro (Hughes, 86); Jenas, Bowyer, Dyer, Bellamy (Milner, 75); Shearer (Kluivert, 62), Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Robert.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi (Smith, 6); Telfer, Lundekvam, Davenport, Higginbotham; Prutton, Redknapp, Delap, McCann (A Svensson, 66); Crouch, Phillips (Ormerod, 87). Substitutes not used: Oakley, Nilsson.

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Southampton Crouch, Telfer.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 51,266.

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