Shearer's fitness top of Robson priorities

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The Independent Football

THE NEWCASTLE United manager, Bobby Robson, is to adopt a softly, softly approach with Alan Shearer to avoid the threat of the England captain suffering from burn-out because of his demanding schedule.

THE NEWCASTLE United manager, Bobby Robson, is to adopt a softly, softly approach with Alan Shearer to avoid the threat of the England captain suffering from burn-out because of his demanding schedule.

Robson is to keep a close eye on his most prized asset who was forced by injuries to turn out in Tuesday's Worthington Cup tie at Birmingham City barely 48 hours after playing for his country against Belgium.

Duncan Ferguson and Temuri Ketsbaia were out of action and Kevin Gallacher cup-tied, but it proved an unhappy match for Shearer, who saw his fourth-minute penalty saved by the Birmingham City goalkeeper Ian Bennett as the underdogs pulled off a shock 2-0 victory with goals from Martin O'Connor and Darren Purse.

Shearer was substituted in the second half, Robson admitting that he effectively threw in the towel after the second goal, concerned with saving the energy of his most potent weapon.

Robson, who also saw goalkeeper Steve Harper sent off in first-half injury time, said: "I don't like giving up but there was no point in Alan Shearer being asked to expend every ounce of energy he has got in his body. He had played an international 48 hours earlier, but with three big strikers unavailable I had to play him. The penalty was one of those things. He'll be sorry about that but he held the ball up well and challenged well.

"I have to protect him and God forbid that he doesn't get injured because we have got him playing very well. I am concerned about him. He wants to play and would rather play than train. But I've got to look after him in training every day, use a softly, softly approach, wrap him up in cotton wool a little bit. I don't want to make him feel 'the club will fall over if I don't play' but he is vital to us so we have to be sensible with him.

"I respect the Worthington Cup. If I didn't I wouldn't have played the likes of Shearer, Speed and Dabizas after coming back from internationals, but Premier League status for us is crucial. We are a long way from home in that competition yet and we also might have a little dart at things in Europe. We have other fish to fry."

Trevor Francis, the Birmingham City manager, admitted that the high percentage of foreign players in the United side meant he felt confident once his team scored the second goal.

"I always felt that with so many foreign players in the opposition that they were never going to come back from 2-0 down," he said. "Having been a player abroad, when you go 2-0 down I think most foreign teams accept that the game is over. British players don't, but most foreign players would tend to believe that there is no way back."

Harper was sent off after bringing down Andy Johnson for the penalty which was converted by O'Connor past substitute goalkeeper Shay Given. Then Purse, who had conceded the penalty which enabled Bennett to save from Shearer, headed the second.

Bennett, making his first senior appearance in 13 months after injuries, said: "It was a surprise to be playing. I had no preparation for the game. The night before I had been out with my kids on the dodgems at the fair. But it was a pleasant surprise and the penalty save was a good way to get rid of all my nerves."

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