Shearer stands calm as reckoning arrives

Manager revels in last-gasp attempt to keep Newcastle in the Premier League

Alan Shearer talked about golf yesterday morning, and his wife, what his son thinks of his team selections, the significance of Geordie identity to Newcastle United – and the lack of it; he talked about the game at Aston Villa tomorrow, about it being a Cup final, about James Milner, Hull, Alex Ferguson, tea ladies, job losses and the overall despair relegation would wreak on his club.

He talked a lot and did so with confidence and humour. But the one thing Alan Shearer did not want to discuss was Alan Shearer and his future at St James' Park.

"I'm sure there is going to be speculation about myself and the owner," Shearer said, "but we don't want that, it's not important. What is important is Newcastle. It's bigger and better than anyone. We've got a chance to save Newcastle, that's the important thing. Everything else can wait, everything else is irrelevant."

Fifty-four days after coming in declaring, "It's not about me", Shearer remained on message. This was his eighth pre-match press conference and news of his future would reveal much of where the club thinks it is and will be, but Shearer was still tap-dancing around an issue big enough to fill the room. Yet still he was pressed.

"It's been enjoyable in a strange sort of way," he said of this eight-week stint. "Hard work. Other than that, ask me on Sunday night and I'll give you a better answer. It's been a challenge, it's been a massive challenge. I was asked eight weeks ago to come in and help and I don't regret a single minute of it. What a chance we have got to rectify it now."

Could he see how management becomes addictive? "Yes. Definitely. It is strange. I have really enjoyed the ups and downs and the different emotions. The emotions after winning are fantastic. Obviously they have been rare, but when it did happen it was great. On the other hand when you lose, it's very, very depressing for a day or so before you look to the next game and decide what you're going to do to put it right."

Asked if Shearer shared the view of Habib Beye and Steven Taylor among others that his appointment does not feel temporary – Ryan Giggs said this week he could foresee Shearer being in position "for 10 years" – he replied: "Well, I was asked to come in and do my best for the football club. I know you will look at it and think I have done things which look long term. Well, so they should because I have been employed by the club to do what is best for it. Now I have done that, and made a few changes which I felt were best for the club at this particular time and going forward."

Was yesterday his last Friday here? "I am not looking at it that way, I am looking to the game and nothing else. I cannot afford to look at anything else, it would be wrong of me to do that. I will look at that on Monday morning."

This was Shearer's first morning chat in non-Newcastle sportswear, though there was nothing to be read into that, he said. But the contractual fact is that Shearer is signed until around six o'clock tomorrow evening.

The eight games will have come and gone, and so may Newcastle's 16-season status as a Premier League club. These are serious current affairs yet until tomorrow is done, and until owner Mike Ashley speaks – limbo.

"He was disappointed with the result last week obviously," Shearer said of Ashley, "but he is not important, I am not important, my future is not important, his future is not important, what is important is the football club, not individuals. We will talk about the future after the game."

Sun-browned and wind-blown after his first nine holes of golf in two months, Shearer was as relaxed as he could be considering the stakes, and considering Michael Owen, like Beye, is almost certainly an absentee.

If Newcastle lose, they will be relegated. Draw, or win on a ground where they lost 4-1 last season, and Newcastle are dependent on the results from Hull and Sunderland.

Shearer accepted that nationally Newcastle have tried the patience of neutrals, not just this season. Over the five years since Bobby Robson was ushered stage left there has been an erosion of goodwill towards the club. That is others' prerogative, Shearer said, he will always know what Newcastle United means to his city. "You are probably better off asking Iain Dowie about that. He said to me: 'Now I know why you turned Man United down'. Coming up here, listening to the people, looking at the people, seeing what it means to them, seeing the size of the football club, I think he fully appreciates what size this club is.

"I know what this football club is, what it means to the people. You know what it means to me. That is why I came back. Huge, huge. We all know the implications. I know, the players know, people around the city know what it means for this football club to be in the Premier League.

"Massive. We are aware of the financial consequences and not only that, you are talking about the staff who you don't know at this football club – tea ladies etc who could lose their jobs. We are looking at that as well." If, over the seven games to date, Newcastle had played with the conviction of Shearer's words, they would be safe by now and the future would be being studied on maps.

But any managerial appointment announced on April Fools' Day is loaded. A stumbling club had produced a haphazard squad from which flowed a disjointed team.

So far, for all the sweat, Shearer has been unable to stem the downward drift. At 38, just seven games in, he looks like a manager though. It's just that as Arsène Wenger said the day after Shearer took over: "To transform a team in eight games, that is not a manager anymore, that is a magician."

What they have to do to survive

*Barring outlandish scores, Sunderland will stay up if they beat Chelsea, or Newcastle and/or Hull fail to win.

Hull will stay up if they beat Manchester United, or if they draw and Newcastle lose at Aston Villa, or if they and Newcastle lose and Middlesbrough do not win at West Ham with a five-goal swing.

Newcastle will stay up if they win and either Sunderland or Hull fail to win, or if they draw and Hull lose.

Middlesbrough will stay up if they win, Newcastle lose and Hull lose with a five-goal swing.

*Relegation odds

Middlesbrough 1-50 (Coral),

Newcastle 4-7,

Hull 6-4

Sunderland 8-1

*Final day fixtures

(All tomorrow, 4.00)

Aston Villa v Newcastle

Hull City v Manchester United

Sunderland v Chelsea

West Ham Utd v Middlesbrough

Where it all went wrong: The clubs' pivotal moments

Sunderland

Keane's late leveller – 7 March

After leading from the third minute, Sunderland conceded late on when Spurs broke after a corner for Robbie Keane to equalise in the 89th minute. Since then have lost seven of the nine matches.

Ricky Sbragia: "The Tottenham game annoyed me because I knew it was two vital points being thrown away. We would not be sat here talking about relegation and that's the annoying thing."

Hull City

Brown's dressing down – 26 December

Phil Brown gives his half-time team-talk on the pitch at Manchester City.

Alan Fettis, former Hull goalkeeper: "He lost the dressing room – don't care what he says. I have spoken to players who were on the pitch that day and they couldn't believe what they were seeing and hearing. He makes them sit down like school children. Then he stood there with his microphone sticking out of his ear shouting and bawling at them, but none of them were taking it in. They're all looking at him thinking: 'What a prick'. They'd won 27 points by then, eight since."

Newcastle

Keegan departs – 4 September

Kevin Keegan quits due to the influence of Dennis Wise, director of football.

Alan Shearer, 6 September: "I think it is dangerous when a director of football is appointed. A manager lives and dies by the players he can bring in and the players he sells. If a manager can't do that then is there any point in him being there? Kevin would have thought players are going to be coming in, probably big name players, and obviously that didn't happen."

Middlesbrough

Flop at Fulham – 20 December

One week after drawing with Arsenal, Boro were torn apart at Craven Cottage, losing 3-0.

Middlesbrough Evening Gazette: "Dismal Boro were embarrassingly second best. If you don't compete, you deserve nothing. It paints a bleak picture with Christmas rapidly approaching. WAKE UP Boro – before it's too late."

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