Bobby Robson's boys have 11 matches to play before they end their season of indeterminate expectation at Southampton on 11 May. In the meantime, the unlikely lads are sitting level on points with Liverpool, the new leaders in the Premiership title race.
Their latest success, their ninth win in 12 league matches, came courtesy of their captain, who scored his first three goals in the top flight on his debut as a 17-year-old for Southampton against Arsenal back in 1988. Fourteen years on, he remains – to quote the massed ranks of the Toon Army – the "same old Shearer, always scoring." Now 31, Alan Shearer scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season, yesterday.
In doing so, the former England captain helped his team overcome some patchy first-half play as well as the club with whom he launched his long and distinguished career. "There's no-one better than him in his position in the country at the moment," Robson said of his centre-forward of enduring excellence. "He's playing superbly and fighting for us too, scrapping for every ball."
Shearer was ably assisted by his nimble strike partner, Craig Bellamy, who kept his place in Robson's line-up despite the midweek caution he received from Northumbria Police for assaulting a 21-year-old female student. Not that the sinner or the former Saint saw very much of the ball as Newcastle struggled to make an impression against Gordon Strachan's polished side in the opening quarter.
It was Southampton who produced the creativity in that period, spraying the ball about the St James' Park pitch with precision. They had their chances, too. A brilliant ball down the right by Jason Dodd put Marian Pahars clear in the eighth minute, but the Latvian failed to find a goalscoring finish, firing a dipping shot directly at Shay Given. Pahars also floated a shot over Given's goal from the left edge of the area before the tide suddenly turned in the 24th minute.
The Southampton goal appeared to be under little threat when Paul Williams conceded a free-kick some 32 yards out, while attempting to challenge Gary Speed. Laurent Robert, however, was known as 'volcano' in his time at Paris Saint-Germain and the Frenchman erupted with a vengeance, swerving a thundering left-foot kick through the defensive wall and past the despairing Paul Jones. Strachan and his players were stunned.
It took an excellent one-handed save by Jones to deny Robert a minute later and when Shearer headed in a left-wing corner from Nolberto Solano in the 29th minute Newcastle looked set to run rampant. Then, however, the gaps started to appear.
Pahars hooked in a cross from the right by Paul Telfer six minutes before the break and had Given not saved a looping Kevin Davies header Southampton might have been level by the 45th minute.
As it was, though, Strachan's side were 3-1 down at the break, Shearer converting an injury-time penalty after Bellamy was adjudged to have been bowled to the ground by Claus Lundekvam.
If the award was harsh on Southampton, they were fortunate to escape further damage in the second half. Newcastle struck the woodwork twice, Bellamy side-footing a shot against the near post when Sylvain Distin whipped in a cross from the left two minutes after the interval and Shearer crashing a low right-foot shot against the same spot on the hour. Bellamy also fired into the side-netting and Solano forced the save of the game from Jones, but the Toon Army went home happy enough.
They were even given a 15- minute glimpse of Jermaine Jenas, the man signed for £5m from Nottingham Forest. Unlike his new captain, though, the 18-year-old could not mark his top-flight debut with a goal, let alone three.Reuse content