Alan Shearer freely admits Monday night’s showdown with Portsmouth is one of the biggest games of his Newcastle career.
The 38-year-old, who played in two FA Cup finals, Champions League ties against the likes of Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona and memorably, Feyenoord, as well as a UEFA Cup semi-final for his home-town club, is adamant the Magpies’ next fixture is the most important of the lot.
In his fourth game as manager, Shearer will send his side out at St James’ Park knowing anything other than victory would represent a major blow to their hopes of remaining in the Barclays Premier League.
It is a measure of how far Newcastle have fallen since the days when they rubbed shoulders with Europe’s elite that a game they would once have approached expecting nothing other than a win has assumed such monumental proportions.
However, with only 15 points left to play for and the club currently four adrift of safety, the former England captain’s assessment of its magnitude is understandable.
Shearer said: “It’s my biggest game for a long, long time. We all know the stakes, so we need to go out and get three points.
“It sounds easy, but it won’t be. We all know the importance of it. Now we just need to go out and do it. We have to go at it and grab those three points.
“I think nine points could just be enough, looking other teams’ fixtures.
“I might be wrong, but I’m asking the players to win their three home games, starting with Monday against Portsmouth.”
The Magpies have known for some time that they will probably need to win those three home games – against Pompey, Middlesbrough and Fulham – if they are to avoid the drop, and that assertion has proved chillingly accurate.
However, if he needs a positive omen, Shearer does not have to look to far into the past to find one.
It was against Portsmouth on February 4, 2006 that he finally eclipsed Jackie Milburn’s record of 200 goals for the club in a 2-0 victory which marked the beginning of Glenn Roeder’s successful spell in caretaker charge.
The striker ran on to Shola Ameobi’s 64th-minute back-heeled pass to fire home and spark celebrations which reverberated around St James’ long after the ball had hit the back of the net.
Shearer was to make just 10 more appearances for the club and score five more goals before a knee injury ended his career three games earlier than he had intended, but the memories of that landmark remain with him.
He said: “I hope it is an omen to clutch on to. But what I am aiming for is my first win as a manager.”
Shearer would happily settle for a repeat of the 2-0 scoreline that day as his side looks to complete just a second double of the campaign – they won 3-0 at Fratton Park on December 14 – to boost their survival hopes.
So too would winger Jonas Gutierrez, who is under no illusions as to the task at hand.
He said: “This is going to be my most important game for the club.
“We know exactly where we are so we must take three points.
“The training has been very good and everybody is prepared for the game with Portsmouth.
“All the players are aware of just how serious this situation is.”