Shearer puts spring back in Newcastle's step

Newcastle United 3 Charlton Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

As winter makes way for spring, the Premiership season enters the final straight and it is Newcastle United who have begun the sprint the better after this tense victory.

With the top three showing a clean pair of heels all that is left for these sides is the scrap for the fourth and final Champions' League qualification place. Both had been delivered a blow before a ball had been kicked, Sami Hyypia's last-minute winner for Liverpool against Wolves putting the Merseysiders up into that coveted position.

There will be no trophy or victory parade for the winner of this particular race only a pot of European gold, and the Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson labelled this the most important game of the season for his under-performing side. Those sentiments will have been echoed in the visitors' dressing room by Alan Curbishley, so imagine how he felt when he saw his side fall a goal behind after two minutes.

Laurent Robert's long throw fell straight to Luke Young, but instead of clearing the danger the full-back headed the ball straight back to the Frenchman. Robert took one touch and then stroked it on to the head of Alan Shearer who diverted it into the corner.

It began an excellent afternoon's work for the Newcastle captain who hustled and bustled with an energy some had begun to think had deserted the 33-year-old. He and his team-mates continuously stretched a Charlton defence lacking their two first choice centre-backs, Richard Rufus and Mark Fish.

Gary Speed should have made it two after four minutes, but sent a free header over the bar and Dean Kiely had to scramble across his goal to make an excellent low save from a Robert free-kick a few minutes later. Radostin Kishishev then had Charlton's only shot in the first-half, but drilled it into the side netting before United finally managed to extend their lead.

Shola Ameobi created it with a surging run into the area, where he held off three defenders before squaring to Jermaine Jenas, who charged down Young's attempted clearance which cannoned off his knee and into the net.

Charlton, though, pulled one back nine minutes after the restart thanks to some generous defending from Newcastle. Andy O'Brien and Titus Bramble both failed to clear the danger allowing Claus Jensen to volley home Paul Konchesky's cross.

At the other end, Ameobi scuffed a wonderful chance wide as home nerves began to fray and Carlton Cole forced the Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given to save after more hesitant defending. If that was bread and butter for the Irishman, the one-handed save he made to keep out Chris Perry's volley was of the world class variety.

Sixty seconds later the unfortunate centre-half Perry tripped Robert in the Charlton area. Shearer tucked in the resulting spot-kick at the second-attempt, after Kiely had saved, and it is Newcastle rather than Charlton, for whom Jonatan Johansson hit a post late on, who keep pace with Liverpool.

Newcastle United 3
Shearer 2 77, Jenas 35

Charlton Athletic 1
Jensen 54

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 51,847