Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Viduka backs Shearer to stay at Newcastle

Mark Viduka is hoping Alan Shearer can launch a long career as Newcastle manager by sparing the club from relegation.

The 38-year-old former Magpies and England skipper sampled victory for the first time as boss at St James' Park as his side came from behind to defeat derby rivals Middlesbrough 3-1 and give themselves a genuine chance of Barclays Premier League survival.

Shearer's maiden win was his home town club's first at St James' Park since December 21 and was enough to lift them out of the drop zone, where they were replaced by plummeting Hull.

Should Newcastle repeat the feat at home to Fulham on Saturday, they will be all but mathematically safe if the Tigers lose at Bolton because of their superior goal difference, although anything less would send them into the final day trip to Aston Villa still with plenty to worry about.

However, Viduka is keeping his fingers crossed that Shearer will steer the club to safety, an achievement that would increase the calls for owner Mike Ashley to retain his services on a permanent basis.

The 33-year-old said: "He's had a massive impact.

"Everybody respects Alan - he's got that automatically. Maybe he doesn't have the experience as a manager, but he has got that presence about him.

"I wish him all the best - and I hope we stay up and he's got a long career here."

Shearer insisted on his arrival at St James' Park at the beginning of last month that he would remain at the helm for only the final eight games on the season after answering Ashley's SOS call.

However, there is a growing belief that he has warmed to the idea of staying, although there would need to be major changes both on and off the pitch if that was to be the case.

For now, all that matters is the process of dragging the club away from a fate which would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, but has become an increasingly likely possibility in recent weeks.

Last night's win represents a start, and a belated one at that, and the role Viduka played was central and did not go unnoticed by a man who was a master of the craft during his playing days.

Shearer was fulsome in his praise of the Australian's performance against his former club after his emergence from an injury nightmare which has ruined what seems certain to be his final season on Tyneside.

Asked about his manager's glowing tribute, Viduka said: "It's great. I was a massive fan of Alan's. He knows what striking is all about, he knows the position and it's an honour.

"Since Alan came back, the first thing he did was ask me whether I was in or out, and I want to keep this club up, that's the most important thing - as do the rest of the players.

"It meant so much to us last night to get this win. It's a derby game, it's always a difficult game - the last two years I have played here, I don't think we have beaten them - and on such an important occasion, we did the business."

But if the evening ended in black and white celebrations, the mood was starkly different just three minutes into a game which was played out in front of a 51,252 crowd who were put through the wringer until the closing stages.

Goalkeeper Steve Harper came from his line well to smother Tuncay Sanli's shot after Afonso Alves had played him in, but the loose ball cannoned into Habib Beye's shins as he arrived to help out and rolled into the net, to the horror of the Senegal international.

Viduka was denied an equaliser by the post as the Magpies' luck deserted them once again, but they were back in the game with nine minutes gone when defender Steven Taylor rose to power a header past Brad Jones from Danny Guthrie's corner.

Taylor said: "That's the most important goal I have ever scored for this football club, and probably will ever score for this football club.

"It was a great feeling."

From that point on, the balance of power switched at regular intervals with Jones tipping a Michael Owen header over the crossbar and Harper blocking a Marvin Emnes shot with his legs before the Dutchman fired wide from the rebound.

But it was after the break with the Teessiders threatening to take control that Shearer made his move, sending on Peter Lovenkrands and Obafemi Martins for Jonas Gutierrez and Owen, and it paid dividends almost immediately.

Martins fired the Magpies ahead with 19 minutes remaining and Lovenkrands ended any Middlesbrough hopes of a fightback with an 86th-minute strike, and a lifeline had been firmly grasped.

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