I said last week that Newcastle
- and Alan Shearer - may benefit from going down this season.
But the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough
has given them a real fighting chance of staying up and their fate is now in
their own hands.
Given the electric atmosphere at St James' on Monday it
would be easy to get carried away with the win, which lifted the Magpies out of
the bottom three for the first time in two months.
The players certainly appeared to be pleased with themselves
at full-time, indulging in a fair bit of back-slapping on the pitch, as if they
had won a trophy or something.
Sure it was a huge game to win, but it was just one game -
against one of the poorest teams in the league at that - and their next match
against Fulham at the weekend is now even bigger.
Looking at the run-ins for the clubs at the bottom, I think Newcastle still need at
least another point. The question is, are they capable of doing that against Fulham or Aston Villa?
Roy Hodgson's side are full of confidence at present and chasing hard
for a European spot - they will be no pushovers at St James', even with their
erratic form away from home.
And Villa away on what is certain to be a tense and nervy final day of the season is going to be a tough proposition. Newcastle are far from out of the woods yet.
And it's not just the players and fans getting carried away.
The media are at it too, with Tuesday's morning's newspapers containing phrases
like "managerial magic" and "tactical masterstroke".
Of course, they refer to Shearer's double substitution which
reaped rewards in the second half.
But the decision to replace Michael Owen with Obafemi
Martins was not a tactical masterstroke - it was merely an obvious, if ballsy,
Owen was playing poorly - not much change there - and did
not look like he was going to score. So, Shearer brought him off and replaced
him with the man who was specifically put on the bench to do that. Simple.
Martins should have started in my book, but Shearer went
with Owen, presumably because he's a big-name player and is supposed to perform
in big games.
But the Nigerian provides far more energy and enthusiasm
than Owen, and his bustling style troubled the Boro defence right from the
moment of his introduction. He probably had a point to prove to Shearer, having
been left on the bench.
The change paid off, gloriously, but to call it a stroke of
genius on Shearer's behalf is to give him too much credit. It was brave,
nothing more. He will know that as a manager, sometimes you need a bit of luck
and when Martins, and then his second sub Peter Lovenkrands, scored, that was
what he got.
Newcastle now have to try to maintain the energy levels they
showed against Boro for the final two games of their season, but to do so is
going to be difficult.
The players put so much into Monday's derby - more than they
have done for months - there is now the danger of suffering from a hangover
come Saturday, a case of after-the-lord-mayor's-parade, if you like.
This is where Shearer really has to prove his worth. This
week, he must find a way to motivate his players the same way as he did for
Monday's game and get the same commitment and desire from them against Fulham.
Such is their situation, nothing less will do for either the
club, or their fans.
- Alan Shearer
- Michael Owen