Shearer leads Newcastle to nervy victory

Newcastle United 2 - Southampton 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Despite the new defenders, despite the talismanic return of Alan Shearer, despite an early lead, despite the opposition goalkeeper taken off on a stretcher, despite innumerable chances and countless corners, Newcastle spent the second half clinging with increasing desperation to victory over a Southampton side who have yet to win away.

Despite the new defenders, despite the talismanic return of Alan Shearer, despite an early lead, despite the opposition goalkeeper taken off on a stretcher, despite innumerable chances and countless corners, Newcastle spent the second half clinging with increasing desperation to victory over a Southampton side who have yet to win away.

Indeed, as Paul Telfer's shot three minutes into injury time skidded towards Newcastle's goal, there were thousands who couldn't bear to look as Shay Given began his dive to meet it. They averted their eyes in the hope of avoiding sight of the car crash. But at the foot of the post, Given clung on - as did Newcastle to the points.

"We played some exciting stuff in the first half and we should have made it a very comfortable afternoon for both the supporters and myself,'' said the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, "but it wasn't to be.''

With £9m of talent making a home debut to bolster their defence, and Shearer picked to lead the forward line after 12 games out injured, Newcastle looked in good shape from the start. It got even better in the fourth minute when Titus Bramble's long ball sent Shola Ameobi cantering away. Calum Davenport pulled at him from behind, sending him skidding into Antti Niemi. The Finn departed, and Saints were stung by the award of a penalty against them.

Inevitably - and eventually, after five minutes of treatment to Niemi - Shearer struck the kick past the replacement, Paul Smith. It was a sidefoot rather than the usual rocket, but it still counted as Shearer's 400th career goal - his first coming on 9 April 1988 against Arsenal on his debut for Southampton.

Newcastle should have gone on to make as much hay as Shearer has in the 17 intervening years. Bellamy ripped Saints to shreds down the left, but even this early there was a nervousness about Newcastle. In the 27th minute Ameobi tumbled over Daven-port and they furiously claimed a second penalty. "It was more obvious than the first,'' bellowed Shearer.

The second came in the 38th minute. Telfer hacked at Bellamy, Celestine Babayaro took the kick and Bramble hooked in his first League goal.

Yet, despite the advent of Babayaro and Jean-Alain Boumsong, the Newcastle defence has not lost its old ability to concede at the most inopportune moments. Just before half-time, Davenport won a back-post header, Kevin Phillips turned it on to the bar and Peter Crouch volleyed home the rebound.

Newcastle made chance after chance in the second half, but Smith was irreproachable. The home side's frustration turned to trepidation every time Crouch's quick, stick-thin legs came up against Bramble's colossal but impet-uous thighs in the penalty area, and every time he rose high above Boumsong to win a knock-down. But somehow Newcastle got bodies in the way right into the 94th minute, when David Prutton smacked a goal-bound shot into the mouth of Steven Taylor as Newcastle clung to the points quite literally by the skin of their teeth.

Said the Southampton manager, Harry Redknapp: "When the keeper gets carted off and the referee gives a penalty so early you think, 'Hang on, this is going to be some day here'. But we kept going, kept battling away and you can't ask more than that.''

But Redknapp accepted that diligence alone wouldn't be enough to keep Southampton up. "We need three players to come in quickly to give us a chance,'' he said. "It's finding them that's the difficulty.''

Comments