Shearer's 200th so important for Souness

January 8, 2006

Alan Shearer has scored some important goals among the 200 he has now plundered in his nine-and-a-half years at Newcastle.

Empics / JohnWaltonAlan Shearer: Record-breaker.

There have been goals which have won FA Cup semi-finals, goals which have helped to secure top-four finishes, hat-tricks in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup -and an unprecedented haul of five against Sheffield Wednesday in Sir Bobby Robson's first home game in charge.

Yet when Graeme Souness comes to reflect on his time as manager of the Tyneside club he will look back principally upon the one that took his 35-year-old captain on to the pedestal which has, since 1957, been reserved for Geordie folklore's greatest footballing hero.

The Scot was 10 minutes from suffering the embarrassment of having to go through an FA Cup replay at Mansfield against a club fighting relegation to the Conference.

It would surely have meant a dramatic escalation too in the criticism which has flooded Souness' way in recent weeks.

Thanks to Shearer's intervention to equal Jackie Milburn's 49-year-old club record, all that has been averted - for now at least.

Shearer's 80th-minute strike may not have been the most spectacular of his double century, but it was dispatched with his customary aplomb and celebrated with both joy and relief to spark a sea change in the atmosphere at St James' Park.

Had any other member of Souness' injury-wrecked squad produced the face-saver, the chances are that his side would still have been booed off the pitch as they had been at half-time.

But the anticipation which has surrounded Shearer's quest to establish himself as the greatest number nine in the club's history - and there have been some good ones over the years - sparked a joyous conclusion to a tense and at times ugly afternoon.

'One of the reasons I wanted to come back here is because I knew how special the number nine shirt is and the position of centre-forward at Newcastle,' he said.

'There isn't another place in the world like it. I've been around and played football in many countries and many cities, and there isn't a place like this place for centre-forwards to score goals.

'How lucky am I that I've been able to do it for 10 years? I've got another four-and-a-half months to go - and I intend to enjoy it.

'The fans have been great to me over the years. I've never had any problems with them whatsoever. For me, the Gallowgate End is very special because it's where I stood as a kid week in, week out.

'If I'd had a choice I would have done it there - but you can't be choosy at my age.'

When Shearer inevitably overhauls Milburn's record he will be admitted to the Geordie pantheon and granted similar status.

'I am very proud and honoured to be sitting there with the great Jackie Milburn,' he said.

'Just his name and his aura around this city - if you ask anyone, when I was growing up, all I could here was people talking about how great he was.

'Unfortunately, I never met him - I've met members of his family - but I think he was a man of the people, and that means a lot to me.'

Shearer was quick to point out that his achievement should not overshadow what was an impressive display by League Two strugglers Mansfield - and a largely ineffectual one by his side - as Peter Shirtliff's men threatened to leave with at least a replay.

Had it not been for two excellent saves from Shay Given, Sam Russell or Adam Rundle might have given the visitors the lead - and it would not have been against the run of play, because the Magpies were out-played in midfield and haphazard at the back.

But Souness, whose job seems to be on the line every time he steps into the dug-out, insists he never considered needing a second game to see them off.

'It's something I hadn't thought about,' he said.

'I was convinced we were going to win.

'I knew it wouldn't be an easy game. In the third round of the FA Cup, the big teams are always playing under a great deal of pressure because a great deal is always made of the small team and the possibility of it being a shock.'

Shirtliff left the north-east buoyed for a survival fight and philosophical over what he had seen.

'You are not going to come here and get a load of chances,' he said.

'If you convert one then it's a whole different game. But it wasn't to be.

'What more can I say? I'm extremely pleased with the players and I hope our younger players will see that as a benchmark for their futures.'