Alan Shearer needs all the good luck he can find in the dying weeks of Newcastle United’s disaster of a season. And after his 69th minute substitution of Michael Owen for Obafemi Martins, fortune smiled on the Magpies’ former number nine when their current number nine found the back of the net almost immediately after being subbed into the match.
Less than a minute after running onto the pitch, Martins turned his marker in the box and firmly struck the ball while losing his own footing. The shot sailed past Boro’s Brad Jones putting Newcastle ahead in yesterday’s pivotal relegation-battle-upon-Tyne.
Commentators were questioning Shearer’s decision to remove Owen for Martins since the latter’s fitness was in doubt. But any uncertainty over Shearer’s managerial instincts were brushed aside with Martins’s quick, brilliant goal.
The 50,000 plus spectators at St. James Park had already seen two goals in the first half.
The opener was a bizarre Habib Beye third-minute own goal after Boro’s Tuncay Sanli charged into the box. Tuncay took credit for the goal by holding his finger to his mouth to shush the home crowd. But a park full of Geordies would not be silenced and the noise grew three minutes later when Mark Vidika’s shot rattled off the post. Steven Taylor couldn’t get the rebound on target. Their fears were assuaged after a further three minutes, when Taylor equalized off Danny Guthrie’s corner kick. A perfect header to make the crowd roar and lift team spirits.
Newcastle dominated most of the first half, and had another serious look at goal in the 26th minute when Mark Viduka fired a brilliant cross in from out left. Michael Owen connected and put a good header on target, but Jones was able to push it over.
Tension mounted before half-time with Nicky Butt and Roberth Huth picking up yellow cards.
In the second half, Middlesbrough’s youthfulness and vitality (largely channeled through Marvin Emnes) threatened to undo the home side. Yesterday marked Emne’s first league start for Boro and it was an impressive runout indeed. He looked the most likely to earn a second goal for the visitors, causing many problems for United’s back line.
But when Martins came on in substitution, the flow of the match quickly turned in Newcastle’s favor and fifteen minutes later another substitute, Peter Lovenkrands, put the match out of reach after sending home a cross from Kevin Nolan.
Newcastle are far from danger yet, but they’ve clawed their way above Hull City (on goal differential) and with another home match this weekend against Fulham, they’ll have all the belief that they can get a stronger foothold on survival.
The Magpie predicament will rely on other sides slipping as much as anything. Middlesbrough still must face Villa at home and West Ham away. Hull and Sunderland visit Bolton and Portsmouth respectively before hosting two giants: Manchester United and Chelsea FC.
If Newcastle can beat Fulham, they may have done enough to stay up and yesterday’s win will be remembered as the first big step away from life in the Coca-Cola Championship League.
Newcastle supporters have long been clamoring for Alan Shearer to take over managing the club. Their wish came true weeks ago. But today was the first day Shearer was able to make them believe he can save them from falling out of the top flight.