Newcastle Utd 2 Wigan Athletic 1: Ameobi steps up for Roeder in post-Shearer era

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The Independent Online

Who needs Shearer when you've got Shola to step out of the shadows with a skilful assist and a sure-footed finish? Newcastle were starting their first season without Alan Shearer - their talisman, their heartbeat, their life force. For the last six years Shola Ameobi has laboured in his considerable shadow but now, with Michael Owen horribly injured and no reinforcements signed, he is the club's only available recognised striker.

And he stepped out into the limelight. Just before half-time, with his team bogged down on a spongy pitch, he stumbled awkwardly around the Wigan area, the ball a long, long way from his long, long legs but probably under his control. A bewildering change of feet added to Wigan's consternation and the ball spooned up on to Scott Parker's head for the opener.

Ameobi, 24, who although born in Nigeria joined Newcastle's academy at the age of 13, won the game in the 64th minute. Charles N'Zogbia broke from the halfway line, driving at Wigan's heart before unleashing a terrific shot. Chris Kirkland, playing his first Premiership game since October, might have done more with it as it bounced up off his forearms. Ameobi reacted as a poacher like Shearer and even though the ball rose to an awkward height - everything about this 6ft 3in gangly fellow is awkward - he steered it comfortably home.

"I have always seen him as a striker who needs to play through the middle,'' said Glenn Roeder who became his manager in February. "I said the flip side is that he has to score goals because that is the first quality you look for in a striker. I have told him I am not buying a striker to replace you but to play with you.''

By contrast to Newcastle's single new face Damien Duff who ranged fitfully around the front line - Wigan started their difficult second season with six fresh names and were perhaps unlucky not to secure a point. Kirkland had to settle quickly, splendidly tipping away Parker's long drive in the 17th minute and smartly catching Nolberto Solano's low header in the 30th.

However, he was unable to repel Parker's header, created by Ameobi's awkwardness in the 38th minute. The goal was just reward for an eye-catching performance from the Newcastle captain who ran and sloshed everywhere while his colleagues spluttered through the puddles unable to mount a rigorous examination of Wigan's defence.

Athletic's new faces soon cottoned to the tempting nature of Denny Landzaat's delivery. The 30-year-old Dutch international has Jimmy Bullard's boots to fill and is already established as the dead-ball expert. Ten minutes after the break, his right-wing corner was met by Arjan de Zeeuw's leap and Solano cleared a certain goal from the line.

Newcastle are often the architects of their own misfortune. In the 59th minute, their reluctance to clear the ball allowed Emile Heskey to head it to Lee McCulloch, who delightfully curled in the equaliser.

Almost immediately, Ameobi restored Newcastle's lead but the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, was content with what he had seen. "I'm very disappointed in the result but very happy with the performances," he said. "I thought we deserved more.I thought we matched them.''

They nearly did in the closing minutes because Newcastle, with Titus Bramble organising their back line, produced several coronary-inducing moments of inexplicable absence in defence. Landzaat might have done more than clip a shot over the top. Henri Camara was given time a plenty to drill just wide and, heart-stoppingly, in the very last seconds, Bramble allowed an innocuous ball to strike his hand in the box. So it was a topsy-turvy win, but they expect nothing less on Tyneside.

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