Shearer subs spur Newcastle
Alan Shearer experienced his first victory as Newcastle United's manager when precious goals from Steven Taylor, Obafemi Martins and Peter Lovenkrands ensured a 3-1 success over Middlesbrough in a St James' Park relegation battle.
With two games remaining against Fulham and Aston Villa, Newcastle are still far from safe, but they are out of the bottom three following a game Shearer described as the most important of his career. Middlesbrough, in contrast, must now accept they are heading for the Championship next season after losing a game where they took the lead and wasted several other chances.
"Newcastle don't do things the easy way," sighed a relieved Shearer afterwards, adding his men knew "they have to go out and do exactly the same again on Saturday" against Fulham before their final game at Aston Villa. "I don't believe we'll be in the bottom three again - it's still in our hands," Shearer insisted.
Boro counterpart Gareth Southgate was defiant. "It's not over yet. We have to win the last two games - which we're capable of doing."
An own goal from Habib Beye put Middlesbrough in front before Taylor equalised, with both goals coming early in a game that looked destined to end in stalemate before substitutes Martins and Lovenkrands condemned Gareth Southgate's team to their 11th successive away defeat.
"We were magnificent tonight," Taylor said after his header had cancelled out Beye's early own goal. "It's massive and three points definitely helps us. We need to take this and build on it. We are full of confidence now and can't wait until the next game."
Only 45 miles separate the two teams, but - in football terms - the gap between them may be far, far wider next season after a Newcastle triumph on a date that looked ominous for Middlesbrough. This derby fell on the anniversary of the birth of Jackie Milburn, United's legendary centre-forward, and also Shearer's testimonial, which marked his farewell as a player three years ago.
Five games under Shearer had produced two points and just one goal, although Middlesbrough's form was no better, with only one win in their previous eight Premier League games - a sequence which provoked a few surprises in Southgate's team. The biggest was the inclusion of Dutchman Marvin Emnes, who started his first league game of the season in attack alongside Afonso Alves.
Emnes was called up because Middlesbrough - like Newcastle - had failed to score in their previous three games. But Boro, scorers of only nine goals away from home this season, required just three minutes to go ahead through an own goal when the ball rebounded off Beye after Turkish international Tuncay Sanli's shot was blocked by goalkeeper Steve Harper.
Mark Viduka, once a Middlesbrough player, led Newcastle's response, hitting a post before Taylor fired over from the rebound. Taylor then proved to be far more effective with his head in the ninth minute when he outjumped Gary O'Neil and powered Danny Guthrie's corner inside the same post.
It was the start of an awkward spell for Middlesbrough as Newcastle began to thrive on their extra possession. Viduka's footwork down the left led to a cross towards Michael Owen, whose header was turned over by Australian goalkeeper Brad Jones. But Boro came close when Viduka carelessly lost possession in his own half in the 29th minute, leading to a shot by Emnes against the legs of Harper, who was fortunate when the 20-year-old forward wastefully steered the rebound wide.
Newcastle began the second half in an authoritative mood and, while pinning back Middlesbrough in the early stages, were unable to carve out clear-cut openings. With the game becoming increasingly tense, Middlesbrough finally made some attacking inroads and Harper made a fine save from Gary O'Neil's 18-yard effort in the 57th minute.
With an hour gone, the balance had switched in Middlesbrough's favour as O'Neil became increasingly influential in midfield and Tuncay's intelligent contributions were getting a response from the men around him.
But the arrival of Martins in place of Owen in the 70th minute proved decisive. The Nigerian striker - wearing the No9 shirt made famous by Milburn and Shearer - latched onto a header from Viduka and, as he slipped, managed to direct the ball past Jones. Then, after Jeremie Aliadiere went close to an equaliser, Newcastle put the game out of Middlesbrough's reach when Lovenkrands turned in Kevin Nolan's cross with just four minutes remaining.