Shearer feat turns tide and eclipses old heroes

Newcastle striker ascends all-time list while Manchester United goalkeeper's arrival at Marseilles creates tension over No 1 spot
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The Independent Football

Alan Shearer took another step on the road to legendary status when he fired Newcastle to victory at Fulham on Tuesday night.

The 33-year-old striker has been the club's talisman ever since his then world record £15m move to St James' Park in July, 1996. Shearer was always going to be a hit with the club he supported as a boy, but his impact over the last seven and a half years has exceeded expectations.

Shearer's first goal at Loftus Road, a 51st-minute penalty, took him level in the Magpies' all-time scoring list with Len White on 153, and his second five minutes later established him as No 2 in his own right with only Jackie Milburn ahead of him.

Milburn's 200 career goals for the club may well be beyond a man who insists that he will hang up his boots at the end of next season as his 35th birthday approaches, but it would be a brave man who would bet against him eating substantially into that 47-goal deficit before he does.

United's inspirational captain was the main reason Sir Bobby Robson's men managed to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 victory over Fulham.

"I don't think I will catch Jackie's total, but I am delighted to have overtaken the great Len White," he said. "He's a famous name at Newcastle, as anyone will tell you - including my old man - so I'm pleased and honoured to have gone past his total."

To put Shearer's feat into perspective, he has eclipsed the efforts of Hughie Gallacher, Malcolm Macdonald and Peter Beardsley, the men who occupy the three spots below White, all black and white heroes who hold a permanent place in supporters' affections.

His continuing contribution - last night's double took him to nine goals for the season, almost half of his side's 19 to date - underlined his importance to Robson, but also serves to remind that, sooner rather than later, Newcastle need to find a replacement for him.

The club chairman Freddy Shepherd's weekend trip to Barcelona, during which he inquired about the latest situation with the Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert, is an illustration of just how high they are having to set their sights.

The youngster Shola Ameobi, handed his chance by Craig Bellamy's latest injury problems, is starting to find his feet in the first team, and United have high hopes of Lomana LuaLua and Michael Chopra.

But a Shearer or a Ruud van Nistelrooy or a Thierry Henry come along only so often, and they are worth their weight in gold when they do.

Newcastle's victory over Fulham extended their winning run to four games and helped them to climb into the top half of the table after a poor start.

"Don't forget, we went into the game with four key players in Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Andy Griffin all missing, but the performance and the spirit was fantastic," Shearer said.

"Some people might have doubted us at the beginning of the season - and let's be fair, they had reason to - but all that is now behind us. That's three wins on the trot now in the League and we have two home matches to come, so we can start to look up a lot."

Bellamy's absence for up to four months after a sixth knee operation will come as a huge blow, although rumours that the 24-year-old is ready to retire from international football were today strenuously denied.

Reports from Wales suggest that Bellamy, who is recovering from his latest bout of surgery in Colorado, is ready to quit the Welsh scene to reduce punishment to his knees.

But his agent, Steve Horner, said: "It's absolute rubbish. Craig is, at the moment, recovering from his operation and he's desperate to get back.

"He's happy that Newcastle won 3-2 last night and all he wants to concentrate on now is getting fit and getting back to playing."