Shearer on defensive over `kick' storm

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The Independent Online
ALAN SHEARER, the England captain, yesterday attempted to play down the latest incident in a season dogged by controversy by insisting that he did not intend to kick Leicester City's Neil Lennon in the face during Wednesday night's goalless draw with Newcastle United, despite television evidence to the contrary.

However, with less than six weeks to go to the start of the World Cup, questions are inevitably being asked about Shearer's frame of mind as he fights to ensure Newcastle's Premiership survival while gearing himself up for the biggest test of his life in France.

Shearer escaped immediate punishment at Filbert Street as referee Martin Bodenham and his assistant apparently missed the touchline fracas, but Shearer may still face disciplinary action by the Football Association. Any suspension would not be enforceable for two weeks, so unless a ban is imposed tomorrow Shearer will still be eligible for the FA Cup final between Newcastle and Arsenal on 16 May.

"We're waiting to receive the match official's report before we decide what to do," the FA spokesman, Steve Double, said. "At this stage what course of action we take is totally dependent on that." The referee seems unlikely to report an incident over which he took no action, but despite the spokesman's comments, the FA is still entitled to react to video evidence.

"I have now seen the television pictures of the incident and I am amazed how bad it looks by comparison to what actually happened," Shearer said yesterday.

"I was brought down by Neil Lennon over by the touchline and we both fell clumsily. As I tried to get to my feet I had to really tug my left foot free and the momentum of doing this looked on television like a kick. It certainly wasn't and the fact that Neil is virtually unmarked confirms this. If I did accidentally catch him, I certainly did not mean to. I would never try to deliberately hurt a fellow professional."

The player on the receiving end put the blame on the pressure Shearer is under. "It's bound to get to him sometimes," said Lennon, who was left nursing a sore nose. "I've seen the replay and it looked a bit naughty."

Shearer has been beset by problems on and off the field during a season in which his model-professional "Mary Poppins" image has gradually given way to a more cynical and churlish approach. "I don't care whether you are Alan Shearer, or the Pope, you don't do things like that," the Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill, said after Wednesday's game.

Matt Elliott, the Leicester defender, took a different view. "If it had been one of the other players then such a meal would not have been made out of it," said the centre-back, who marked Shearer during the match.

The Newcastle manager, Kenny Dalglish, defended his pounds 15m striker to the hilt: "The two of them just fell. Lennon pulled him, Shearer swung round and the momentum took him over. There was no malice, no intent as far as I know. I've never seen him do anything to deliberately hurt or injure a player. He is competitive, but not like that."

Last Saturday, however, Shearer was accused by Tottenham's David Ginola of setting out to persistently foul the former Newcastle winger in the relegation match at White Hart Lane, and yesterday the Spurs manager, Christian Gross, claimed Shearer had broken the nose of Tottenham's Ramon Vega with his elbow in the second minute of the game.

A knee injury kept Shearer out of action until January, but soon after his return he became embroiled in a bitter verbal battle with players of non-League Stevenage Borough during the fourth-round FA Cup tie with Newcastle. Three weeks later he incurred the wrath of the Leeds manager, George Graham, who said: "When Shearer marked [Jimmy-Floyd] Hasselbaink at corners it was almost like assault." A fortnight later Barnsley's Danny Wilson was complaining after defender Adie Moses was sent off for two fouls on Shearer: "I don't know how Shearer gets away with some of the things he does," Wilson said.

"It's not the first time he's been criticised and not the first time the criticism has been wrong," Dalglish said. "Moses was unlucky to be sent off but it was not Alan who was dictating what happened. He doesn't hand out the punishment. He only wants to be treated as an equal. He doesn't want preferential treatment, but he doesn't want to be punished because of who he is."

Shearer's single-mindedness is such that he is unlikely to be unsettled by all the furore. Newcastle and England will certainly hope so.