Shearer the conqueror

Newcastle United 2 Wimbledon
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The Independent Online
He came home. He scored. And Newcastle duly conquered.

With two minutes remaining of his first match at St James' Park in Newcastle United's coveted No 9 shirt, Alan Shearer paid back the first instalment of his pounds 15m fee with the free-kick he struck past Neil Sullivan from just outside the left edge of Wimbledon's penalty area.

The ball hit the net at the Leazes End goal, where Tyneside's most celebrated sheetmetal worker's son was paraded on a makeshift stage two weeks ago as the world's most expensive footballer.

After the heartache of Wembley and Goodison, the Doom Army became the Boom Army again. But the man Kevin Keegan bought to win the Premiership this season was obliged to share his hero status with the man who has shouldered the blame for the Devon Loch style of finish that afflicted Newcastle in the home straight last season.

The introduction of Faustino Asprilla, at the expense of Keith Gillespie, was responsible more than anything else for the kick-start Newcastle required. The Colombian revelled in his roving commission, loosely based on a right- wing posting, wreaking havoc with his every touch.

Keegan's pounds 28.5m strike force failed to repeat the damage inflicted on the Dons when they were hit for a 6-1 scoreline at St James' last season. But after seeing his own side ravaged by Manchester United and Everton, the Newcastle manager was probably more satisfied with the tightening effect his defensive changes achieved.

With Pavel Srnicek replacing Shaka Hislop in goal and Robbie Elliott assuming left-back duties from the out-of-sorts John Beresford, the home goal was not under serious threat - apart from a Vinnie Jones free-kick touched on to the bar - until the 86th minute.

Newcastle, leading 1-0 at that stage, looked to be on the suffering end of a sucker punch when Andy Clarke rounded Srnicek and slid the ball towards the gaping Gallowgate End goal. The former Barnet boy scratched his head in disbelief as Marcus Gayle helped the ball on its inevitable course into the net. The substitute had been standing in an offside position and the referee, Stephen Lodge, ignored protests as he whistled for a free-kick to the relieved home side.

It was the second costly blunder of the night by a Wimbledon player. The first came in the third minute when David Batty chipped over the hapless Sullivan from 35 yards. It suggested that perhaps the great pretenders are starting to learn from the occupants of the Premiership throne.

Just as one swallow does not a summer make, the first sighting of Magpie success is no guarantee of a glorious season. But Keegan was happy enough. "We've been slow to start this season," he said, "but maybe we'll be better finishers."

Newcastle United (4-3-3): Srnicek; Watson, Howey, Albert, Elliott; Ginola, Batty, Lee; Asprilla (Clark, 82), Shearer, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Peacock, Gillespie, Beardsley, Hislop (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, McAllister, Perry, Thatcher; Ardley, Earle, Jones, Leonhardsen (Gayle, 84); Holdsworth (Euell, 80), Clarke. Substitutes not used: Kimble, Blackwell, Heald (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

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