Owen and Shearer hit it off to put smile back on Souness' face

Blackburn Rovers 0 Newcastle United 3
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The Independent Football

It was the proudest moment of Shepherd's stewardship when he persuaded Michael Owen to partner Alan Shearer in the Newcastle attack and it was, without question, the most important moment of Souness's reign when that partnership delivered for the first time in the 62nd minute. Prior to Lucas Neill's foul on Owen, Newcastle had looked every inch the dishevelled unit that would cost Souness his job. Then Shearer produced a captain's touch, converting a free-kick from 20 yards into his first goal for 25 hours and the course of a game, and quite possibly a season, changed beyond recognition.

Consumed by nerves and uncertainty, Newcastle then coasted to a first-ever Premiership victory at Blackburn when Owen claimed his first goal in black and white four minutes later.

What a difference three points make. On the final whistle Souness's name resonated from the Darwen End and he obliged not only with a salute to the travelling Geordies but an out-stretched hand to Craig Bellamy that his bitter adversary accepted.

"Now I can be more pleasant around my family," Souness said. "I would never use the word secure because that is not something that goes with football management and the pressure starts again tomorrow when we start training for the game at Manchester City. I am at a big football club, we have spent a lot of money and we have to be in the top half but, yes, hopefully this could be the springboard."

Few would have envisaged such optimism at half-time as Newcastle struggled to live up to even the most humble of expectations.

As so often, however, one goal can change everything, even the memories of what was threatening to be a turgid contest.

"I didn't think we were going to lose until the free-kick went in," said Mark Hughes, Blackburn's manager. "I thought it was unwarranted but it changed the game. Until then I thought they had come with an attitude that they would be happy with a point so a 3-0 defeat is hard to take."

It reveals much about Owen and Shearer's pedigree that they both got on the scoresheet yesterday despite the lack of ideas behind them. Bellamy had been the most prominent of the strikers with a sub-plot, in his case to hasten the departure of the manager who signalled the end of his own career at St James' Park, as functional Blackburn held the edge before the former England double-act intervened, Owen converting a cross from Charles N'Zogbia for his first Premiership goal since equalising against Newcastle for Liverpool at Anfield in May 2004.

"Obviously Alan is not as good as he was a few years ago," Owen said, "but he is still good enough to be a big, big force in the Premier League. I have also changed my game from when I was 18, 20 when I played for England with him but I'm sure we are going to score quite a few together."

Blackburn gave Shearer a generous reception when he departed in the 74th minute - almost certainly his last appearance at the stadium where he won the title in 1995 - as a consequence of Steven Taylor's dismissal for a second yellow card. There must be something stirring in Newcastle when even a sending-off cannot destabilise them.

With five minutes remaining Celestine Babayaro released N'Zogbia down the left. Onside and unmarked he waltzed towards Brad Friedel's goal, rolled his foot over the ball and away from the keeper and converted into an empty net. A sublime finish to what, in relation to his job prospects, had developed into a sublime afternoon for Souness.

Goals: Shearer (62) 0-1; Owen (66) 0-2; N'Zogbia (85) 0-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Neill, Khizanishvili, Nelsen, Gresko (Jansen, 76); Reid, Savage, Mokoena (Tugay, 67), Pedersen; Bentley (Kuqi, 67); Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Emerton.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Boumsong, Taylor, Babayaro; Bowyer, Clark, Faye, N'Zogbia; Shearer (Bramble, 74), Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott, O'Brien, Brittain.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Neill; Newcastle Clark, Boumsong, Given, Taylor, Babayaro.

Sent off: Newcastle Taylor.

Man of the match: N'Zogbia.

Attendance: 20,725.