After 40 minutes' play at Newcastle yesterday, Howard Webb raised his right index finger and pointed towards the penalty spot at the Gallowgate End. The familiar chant of "Shearer! Shearer!" rang round St James' Park.
Suited, booted with a leg brace, and firmly anchored to the home dug-out, Alan Shearer gave a wry smile. His playing days have come and gone. There was some debate in the Newcastle ranks about who might take the penalty before Shola Ameobi stepped up and, less than convincingly, sent the ball trundling past Tomasz Kuszczak.
If it was a symbolic moment, confirmation that the Shearer era was finally over, it also left West Bromwich Albion's days in the Premiership seriously numbered. Already trailing to a Nolberto Solano goal after some Keystone Cop defending, and destined to concede another to Ameobi in injury time, Bryan Robson's side might have stopped off at Shearer's Bar after the final whistle. With two games to go, they are on the scrounge in the last chance saloon, six points behind Portsmouth and safety.
"Yeah, it's looking that we're going to get relegated," an ashen-faced Robson conceded afterwards. "With the other results, it's backs to the wall now. Mathematically, we can still do it but we're relying on Portsmouth and Birmingham. We've also got to win two games ourselves and we're not looking like winning. We didn't play at all today. If I'd had 11 substitutes I would have put them all on at half-time."
As it was, the Albion manager sent on a full complement of replacements after the interval: Nwankwo Kanu, Junichi Inamoto and Nathan Ellington. It was the final hand of a desperate man and proved to be no three-card trick. There were muted chants of "Robson out" from the travelling fans, while the Toon Army voiced their support of Glenn Roeder's claims for the manager's job at St James'.
In less than three months as caretaker, Roeder has amassed a tidy pile of 28 points, two more than Graeme Souness managed between August and February, sweeping Newcastle from the fringe of the relegation zone to level terms with Blackburn Rovers in the chase for Uefa Cup qualification.
Still, with Michael Owen's comeback on hold and the hamstrung Kieron Dyer ruled out for the season, Roeder's men needed a little kick-start to get them into gear yesterday. It came after 22 minutes of meandering from Solano, whose long-range bolt from the blue smacked off Kuszczak's crossbar and left Albion seriously rattled.
They rode their luck through some slapstick defending until the 30th minute, when Neil Clement not so much cleared a Michael Chopra shot into the goalmouth as teed it up for Solano, who buried it from close range. Ten minutes later, Chopra crashed to the ground under challenge from Clement and Ameobi stepped forward to convert the penalty.
It left Robson with little option but to play his full suit of substitutes. The half-time changes prompted nothing more tangible than a near-miss from the head of Zoltan Gera.
In injury time Ameobi broke clear and drove in his second. After losing two teeth against Wigan Athletic the previous Saturday, the young striker played with the protection of a gumshield. It was Albion, though, who lacked any bite.Reuse content