NEWCASTLE UTD: Given, Carr (Ramage 58), Bramble, Boumsong, Babayaro, Brittain (Chopra 64), Clark, N’Zogbia, Solano, Shearer, Luque (O’Brien 86).
Subs Not Used: Elliott, Harper.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Pressman, Buxton, Day, Baptiste, Jelleyman, Uhlenbeek (Arnold 79), Dawson, Coke, Rundle, Russell (Birchall 72), Barker.
Subs Not Used: White, McLachlan, Hjelde.
I’m sure we all feared the worst after a dreadful first half when it was hard for work out which team was the League Two side. But Graeme Souness must be thankful Alan Shearer’s historic 200th goal for Newcastle not only spared him a major FA Cup embarrassment, but it will fill the back pages, rather than an alternative that probably already written before the match!
The 35-year-old fired home from close range from Albert Luque’s backheel 10 minutes from time to equal the legendary Jackie Milburn’s club record total.
Shearer once beat Stags goalkeeper Kevin Pressman five times in a single game during his days at Sheffield Wednesday, but it was a measure of the League Two side’s performance that he converted his only real chance. Had Pressman got hold of it, a goalless draw could have left the under-pressure Souness facing a riot. The fans were remarkably patient for 80 minutes, but the volcano was starting to simmer.
However lacklustre the performance, we remain in the hunt for the last trophy we can win this season, and last one Shearer can ever win wearing black and white. And for that we have to thank the Gods … and one inparticular … Shearer!
Forget Newcastle’s injury problems which have been well documented, Souness still put out a side which cost around £45million to put together and which included seven full internationals. And while he promised to treat Mansfield with the utmost respect, I don’t think the Stags gave much respect to the Jock, or his side. They sensed blood, and went for it fulheartedly.
But and as his millionaires walked off the pitch at half-time, Souness, who has spent the last week defending himself against intense criticism, had boos ringing in his ears once again. But he was just grateful Mansfield hadn’t found a way past Shay Given, because it would have been even worse.
He insists he understands the crowd’s frustration, and indeed calls himself ‘Newcastle’s biggest supporter’, but it was sad to see his misfiring outfit embarrassingly incapable of imposing themselves on a team lying 20th in League Two.
A makeshift midfield saw Nolberto Solano lining up on the left rather than his familiar right. Lee Clark and Charles N’Zogbia also featured, as did Martin Brittain who was lightweight and criminally wasteful on the ball, leaving Shearer and the lively Luque feeding off scraps.
Despite familiar defensive concerns, goalkeeper Shay Given had only one real save to make before the break – from Allan Russell’s long-range 18th-minute effort. The concern was in the middle of the park as Stephen Dawson and Giles Coke repeatedly got the better of Clark and N’Zogbia to feed dangerous wingers Adam Rundle and Gus Uhlenbeek.
Luque hardly set the place alight against the minnows, and it’s games like this that you expect far more from him. But he never seems up for a fight, and today was no different. Mansfield saw far too much of the ball for the crowd’s comfort, and too many players in black and white weren’t up for getting the ball off them.
Carr made way for Peter Ramage and Michael Chopra soon followed him as Luque dropped in on the left side of midfield and Solano returned to his more accustomed right-sided role. By that stage, Newcastle were starting to threaten on a more sustained basis.
The post came to Pressman’s rescue 16 minutes from time when Chopra deflected N’Zogbia’s cross towards goal. But just as the knives were being sharpened, Shearer chose the perfect moment to draw level with Milburn.
Luque ran on to Solano’s pass before backheeling the ball for his skipper to blast a low shot past Pressman and into the net as St James’ Park erupted in a mixture of joy and relief.