Shearer has a reason to smile

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The Independent Football

Joe Royle had feared the smile of the ageing predator and with good reason. Just when it seemed those masters of the unexpected, Manchester City, were evolving into their most astonishing manifestation - workmanlike and predictable - Alan Shearer scored his first goal in open play this season. And, yes, he had a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

Joe Royle had feared the smile of the ageing predator and with good reason. Just when it seemed those masters of the unexpected, Manchester City, were evolving into their most astonishing manifestation - workmanlike and predictable - Alan Shearer scored his first goal in open play this season. And, yes, he had a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

"Everyone keeps writing Alan Shearer off," the Manchester City manager said beforehand, "but he keeps smiling and proving them wrong." Given the cue, Shearer obliged 16 minutes from the end, halting what looked likely to be the third successive draw at Maine Road. Newcastle go to third in the Premiership; City into a familiar haunt, a cell of self-doubt.

"If you give England's greatest striker a quarter of an acre to get his head in," Royle said, "and you are not doing anything to stop the cross coming in it shows how tired we were. We might have to rethink our policy on the Worthington Cup, certainly it took something out of us."

Shearer's goal altered an afternoon that seemed to be focusing on two City players. At one end Tommy Wright, deputising for the injured Nicky Weaver, made several outstanding saves but at the other Paulo Wanchope had a match during which he explored every way to avoid scoring. The Costa Rican is the manifestation of City as he lurches from extremes but yesterday he was neither brilliant nor awful, just wasteful and, to give him credit, unfortunate. On another day he could have had a hat-trick, yesterday he could have played until midnight and remained frustrated.

The opening phase belonged to Wright, however. This time last year the 37-year-old was on loan at Newcastle and it was not without paradox that he did his utmost to halt his erstwhile team-mates. He flung himself to his right to palm away Shearer's header after 14 minutes but his next save 11 minutes later was the sort that goalkeepers keep playing for. Daniel Cordone's corner from the right arced perfectly for Gary Speed's header which should have entered the net but Wright dived and stretched to his left to make an extraordinary block.

If those saves said Newcastle were on top initially, City were the better side either side of half-time and should have been ahead. Wanchope ran into Kevin Horlock's corner after 27 minutes and was denied only by Kevin Gallacher's kick off the line but the Costa Rican striker had an even better chance eight minutes later where he had an inviting range and a free header to divert Horlock's free-kick away from Shay Given. Instead he aimed it straight at him.

The second half began in the same vein with Wanchope finding power and direction from Mark Kennedy's corner only to head against his team-mate Spencer Prior and then was let down by his first touch when Danny Tiatto's long pass gave him a fleeting chance to get beyond the Newcastle rearguard. It did not look like his afternoon and that was duly confirmed after 74 minutes.

City anticipated an offside flag and the hesitation was enough to give Shearer space as Nolberto Solano curved in a cross from the right. With half a goal to aim at and no one near him even a striker who had scored only from the penalty spot hitherto this season could not miss. He accepted the invitation with a relish.

"I'm sure he was relieved even if he wasn't worried," his manager Bobby Robson said. "It was a great goal for him and let's hope it sets him on his way because he has been leading the line well for us."

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