Newcastle manager Alan Shearer yesterday threw open the gates at St James' Park as he called for a united front in the battle for top-flight survival. Thousands of fans turned up to watch an open training session during which the 38-year-old and his coaching staff put the players through their paces in warm sunshine on Tyneside.
A crowd of 7,500, including thousands of schoolchildren on their Easter holidays, looked on as Shearer and his assistant, Iain Dowie, supervised shooting practice, while long-term absentees Joey Barton and Mark Viduka worked together as they continued their recovery from injury.
There were cheers when the ball hit the back of the net – something which has not happened too often in recent matches – with the Argentine winger Jonas Gutierrez in particular suggesting he should be more of a threat when it matters.
But the biggest came when the manager claimed a double in a small-sided game and could not resist the temptation to briefly reprise his famous celebration after the first.
Captain Michael Owen, who is without a goal since 10 January, joined in the shooting exercises, although the real work had already taken place before the gates were opened at 11.30am.
There was no sign of the defenders Steven Taylor and Sébastien Bassong, who are battling against ankle and groin injuries respectively ahead of Saturday's crucial Premier League trip to Stoke City, although the Frenchman had been present for the start of the session.
Shearer was at his most animated as he passed on the knowledge gained from almost 20 years of life at the sharp end and a record 206 goals in a black and white shirt in a decade of service to his home-town club.
However, for all the excitement as Gutierrez, Owen and Obafemi Martins peppered goalkeepers Steve Harper and Fraser Forster with close-range shots, there was no escaping the severity of the challenge which faces the Magpies over the remaining seven games of the season. They head for the Britannia Stadium three points adrift of safety and knowing they need to start winning games if they are to avoid slipping into the Championship.
Shearer is well aware that he faces a monumental struggle to save the club from relegation, but is determined to use everyone and everything at his disposal to pull off an escape.
That could yet include handing a role to local boy Andy Carroll, who warmed down with the reserves on the pitch this morning after claiming a double in Monday night's 2-1 victory over Manchester City in front of his new manager.
The 20-year-old handed his side a 16th-minute lead over Manchester City at St James' Park, and after Benjani Mwaruwari had levelled for the visitors, went on to claim a 63rd-minute winner.
Carroll's form cannot have failed to impress the watching Shearer, coaches Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood and team-mates Habib Beye, Bassong, Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Fabricio Coloccini.
The senior side faces an intensely difficult trip to Stoke on Saturday with their Premier League existence hanging by a thread.
Shearer has placed his faith in the front-men Owen and Martins, but the fact remains that the Magpies have scored only three times in their last six games and are now in grave need of added firepower.
Carroll was used as an 81st-minute replacement for Martins in Saturday's 2-0 defeat by Chelsea, but had little chance to make his mark.
Alan Smith captained the Newcastle second string on Monday night, while there were also run-outs for David Edgar, Xisco and Danny Guthrie, although the latter limped off with a knee injury before half-time.
Number of goals scored by Newcastle in their last six Premier League games – two at home and one away from St James'.Reuse content