Newcastle washed away on a tide of turmoil

ALAN SHEARER’S bid to go from the cosy comfort of the BBC pundit’s armchair to the saviour of Newcastle United within the short spell of eight games ended in a river of black and white tears.

If he has any sense he will be looking for a multitude of assurances from owner Mike Ashley before he agrees to say yes to the challenge of resurrecting the club he loves from the Championship.

Shearer has to be admired for the bravery of leaving Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen behind to try and rescue Newcastle and he confesses to growing addicted to the new role. But he is a solitary figure fighting a litany of poor decisions and turmoil which reached its zenith this season, but was built for several before this under the ownership of Mike Ashley.

Unless they are resolved, only further misery lies ahead.

It was somehow comically fitting that they were finally sentenced to the relegation that has been haunting them all season by one of their own.

Damien Duff’s own goal seven minutes before half-time proved to be the last dagger plunged into the heart of the Toon and the potential for a Leeds United-style nosedive down the divisions is all too real.

The manner in which they succumbed will have disappointed Shearer more than anything else.

This was the “biggest game of my life”, for Shearer but not one of the 11 men he asked to perform as though their lives depended on it came near matching his passion.

Villa have been abject themselves, with only five other Premier League club’s with a worse home record and they had won just once in their last 15 games, but Newcastle were simply not good enough to exploit the fragility of Martin O’Neill’s side, who have limped over the finish line in the last couple of months after threatening to challenge Arsenal for Champions League qualification.

Seven years ago Newcastle were in Europe with Bobby Robson and Shearer was scoring five goals in an 8-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Those days seem a million miles away to the 3,000 Newcastle fans that departed Villa Park in tears and sunburnt chests to add to their pain. Next stop Scunthorpe United. With Ashley unable to find new owners and fresh investment and an ageing squad with little sell-on value the potential to emulate the shocking demise that has happened since 2001 at Elland Road is all too evident.

Some 15 members of Shearer’s squad earn in excess of £50,000-a-week and none have relegation-linked wage cuts written into their contracts.

Duff will be one of those as he was handed a five-year contract when he moved from Chelsea for £5m back in 2006 and his own goal deflated the boisterous 3,000 Toon Army following seven minutes before half-time. His decision to thrust a leg at Gareth Barry’s wayward shot from 25-yards created a vicious deflection that wrong-footed Steve Harper.

Newcastle finally lost their 16-year status as a top flight side at Villa Park, but their demise can be traced back over seasons of gradual decline. They only have themselves to blame and will reflect on numerous missed chances while Michael Owen, nursing a groin injury sat helpless on the bench for 66 minutes.

By the time he was introduced, Newcastle’s resistance had wilted. Shearer knew he would live to regret earlier squandered opportunities.

Steven Taylor had one shot cleared off the line by Carlos Cuellar that a fit Owen would have devoured while Obafemi Martins volleyed over and Duff himself almost surprised Brad Friedel with a shot through a thicket of legs, before the goalkeeper reacted late to push the ball away.

But they evaporated in the sweltering heat. Newcastle ran out of legs and the fact Friedel did not have a single shot to save in the second half, despite Shearer going for broke with three underlines the spineless nature of Newcastle’s fight.

Their defeat would have been more comprehensive but John Carew got his legs all in a tangle inside the six-yard box and Gareth Barry, in what could have been his last appearance was inches away from punishing Nicky Butt’s tired mistake.

Having David Edgar sent off in stoppage time for a second challenge on Ashley Young merely added insult to terrible injury.

REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 7: Was on top of the action, but never wanted the spotlight. Many refs could learn from him.

MATCH RATING: *** Newcastle gave it a go, but just like many times this season they were found wanting. Scunthorpe awaits.

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