Toon totem still leading from the front

Caretakers bring welcome win but O'Neill is the fans' choice. By Simon Turnbull at St James'
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The Independent Football

There is about as much chance of the Black Cats clawing their way to Premiership safety as there is of Mick McCarthy being installed as Graeme Souness's replacement. Still, while the Newcastle board go about their business of searching for a new manager - with O'Neill clearly in front in a fans' poll published in the Evening Chronicle yesterday - at least Shearer and his colleagues managed to back up their ceremonial bonding with the kind of result more familiar to the people's choice in his time at Celtic Park than to McCarthy at the Stadium of Light.

Glenn Roeder always was the tidiest of defensive sweepers, not least in the promotion-winning Newcastle side of 1984, and as caretaker-manager his new broom swept in three vital points. Or, rather, the right foot of his right-hand man did.

Newcastle were sitting a little nervously on their 1-0 lead until Shearer swept their second goal through the legs of Dean Kiely midway through the second half. St James' erupted in acclamation of its favourite son. It was the captain and assistant caretaker-manager's 201st goal for Newcastle; a club record, of course, if you discount the extra 38 Jackie Milburn scored in wartime football - the War Jackie goals, you could say.

"I'll help Glenn in any way that I can," Shearer pledged before kick-off, elucidating on his expanding job description as No 9, captain and now that assistant managerial role, "but the best way I can assist him is to put in performances that can help us climb the table."

He did just that, leading from the front with the kind of rugged centre-forward display that has become his trademark, earning a standing ovation as he left the field and a pat on the back from Roeder, one of the heroes he worshipped as a youngster standing at the Gallowgate End, where he scored his landmark goal.

"Yes, I haven't seen the Roeder Shuffle for a long time," Shearer mused. "I don't know whether he can still do it. We'll find out in training."

There was a Roeder Reshuffle before kick-off, the hapless Albert Luque failing to make the cut even for the bench and departing for home. The caretaker also lived up to his name - Glenn Victor Roeder - but stressed again that he has no desire to keep his hand on the broom on a permanent basis, despite his insistence that the manager's job at Newcastle is "the best in the world".

The best man for that job is the manager who won a cup with Craig Bellamy in his team at the end of last season. Given the Machiavellian state of affairs at St James' in recent times, though, perhaps one of O'Neill's class-mates from his schooldays in Belfast might be a more suitable candidate. After all, Ciaran Hinds did take the blows in the back as Julius Caesar in the BBC's epic Rome production, resisting a Kenneth Williams take on the role.

At times in his tenure as the doomed Emperor of St James', Souness only just stopped short of exclaiming: "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" He did, though, venture to suggest that football life on Tyneside was "a soap", if not quite a Carry On.

And, after the departure of the latest manager on what happened to be Groundhog Day, more than anything Newcastle's unamused supporters want an end to all the comic cuts and the lamentable lack of long-term planning.

"Freddy Shepherd has got to get it right this time or I think the fans will turn on him," Mark Jensen, the editor of the fanzine The Mag, cautioned.

At least the Newcastle chairman has bought some valuable time to get it right, with the temporary appointment of Roeder and the talismanic Shearer in tow.

The former sweeper has managed in the Premiership before, and in the most testing of circumstances. In his time at West Ham, he had to cope with surgery for a brain tumour and the wrath of the fans, one of whom turned up at his house and threw a beer bottle through his daughter's bedroom window.

"It scared her and that concerned me," Roeder reflected, "but I kept my focus. I'm not someone who gets frightened."

Shearer is a man of bottle too, but some 18 months away from having a licence to test it in a Premiership hot seat. "I would like to go into management one day," he said, "but certainly now isn't the right time."

THE FAVOURITES

5-2 LUIZ FELIPE SCOLARI: Big Phil has the big reputation of a World Cup winner, but Brazilians have not blended happily into football life on Tyneside. Mirandinha, said Jim Smith, was more worried about his pig farm back home, and the hapless Fumaca became known as Formica, the only Brazilian who couldn't trap a bag of cement.

4-1 MARTIN O'NEILL: A law graduate who queued to watch the Yorkshire Ripper trial, O'Neill has a fascination with the darker side. The England job, with its own machinations, is likely to be more tempting than the black and white of Tyneside, with his wife to care for and the prospect of an office closer to his Bucks home.

4-1 SAM ALLARDYCE: Like O'Neill, who once confessed to having been a boyhood Sunderland fan, Big Sam has the small matter of a Black Cats' skeleton in his own closet. After enduring the soulless Souness era, the fans might forgive him the season he spent in the enemy's defence.

12-1 SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON: If Villa Park has been a temptation, then St James' might be too. Not that the Geordies would take kindly to a £4.5m-a-year manager with a habit of bunking off early. Still, if the call of a dinner date proves too strong, the chip shops of Bigg Market are in walking distance.

Simon Turnbull

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