ALAN SHEARER could be forgiven for dreaming about those nights he spent on the Match of the Day sofa after his bid to keep Newcastle in the Premier League suffered another grievous blow yesterday.
This encounter marked Shearer’s third match in temporary charge and it ended in yet more disappointment, after Newcastle failed to find a way back from Darren Bent’s first half strike for Tottenham.
It now seems the only way Newcastle will survive this relegation battle is by winning most, if not all, of their remaining home matches, a tall order for a team with just six wins to their name all season.
They currently sit four points adrift of safety, with five matches still to play, and Shearer will recognise their greatest chance of collecting the necessary points is in matches at St James’ Park against Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham.
His only other consolation is the return to fitness of Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka, both of whom featured for the final 30 minutes here, with the Nigerian showing enough to suggest he could yet fire Newcastle away from danger.
“I still believe we have got enough to stay up,’’ Shearer said. “I know people have looked at our home games. We’ll be expected to win those and we have to win those, starting with next Monday against Portsmouth. I think we have to win all three.
“We are certainly a bigger threat with Obafemi and Viduka on the pitch than without them, so that’s something we can work on. If we can keep them fit in the week and get a good week’s training, then they will be in contention when we face Portsmouth.’’
The first half display by Newcastle was horrific — bereft of attacking threat and doddery at the back.
The danger signs were flashing from the seventh minute, when defender Sebastien Bassong tugged on the shirt of the quicksilver Bent, an offence which might have yielded a red card. Somehow, he escaped punishment.
Steven Taylor went on to make a block to deny Robbie Keane, but Spurs were not to be denied for long.
Following a Newcastle corner kick in the 24th minute, goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes fed Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who in turn picked out Luka Modric. The tricky midfield player progressed upfield, and as he played a ball forward, Bassong’s interception fell into the path of Bent. His initial shot on goal was blocked by goalkeeper Steve Harper, but the ball rebounded into his path and Bent made no mistake at the second attempt.
Spurs were dealt a blow by defender Michael Dawson being stretchered off with suspected ligament damage, but as Bent headed over the crossbar, it was Newcastle who welcomed the half-time whistle.
Shearer re-jigged his line-up and tactics as he introduced Alan Smith for the second period, but it was not until mid-way through the half when Martins and Viduka were introduced that they really took the game to Tottenham.
Martins, who had angered Shearer when he pulled out of last week’s trip to Stoke with a groin problem just four hours before kick-off, tried hard to make amends.
In the 68th minute, he drilled a shot into the net via a post from just inside the penalty box, but his celebrations were curtailed by referee Mark Halsey, who had spotted a hand-ball.
While Newcastle could have few complaints with that, Halsey’s decision to overlook a trip by Woodgate in the final 10 minutes was more contentious. The Tottenham defender stretched out a toe and clipped the Newcastle forward after the ball had gone, yet Halsey waved away claims for a spot kick.
“I felt at the time it was a penalty,’’ admitted Shearer. “That’s three decisions we haven’t got now in three games. There are so many emotions on the touchline, you’re up, you’re down, I just can’t describe it.
“But I still believe we have enough to get ourselves out of this.’’
Tottenham have a belief of their own, as manager Harry Redknapp aims to finish the season in seventh place to qualify for the Europa League next term.
He was criticised in some quarters in February after fielding a team of fringe players in Shakhtar Donetsk, which ultimately led to the club’s elimination from the UEFA Cup.
That experience does not seem to have affected his desire for jaunts abroad, however.
“I’d like to qualify for Europe now,’’ he said. “It would be a good achievement, fantastic. It’s not as important as staying up, that’s all they were talking about.
“(Chairman) Daniel Levy hadn’t slept for weeks because he thought we were going to get relegated. I bet he’s sleeping now.
“We want to achieve it and it would be good but there’s five or six other teams wanting it as well.”
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire) 5: Decided not to make any match-turning decisions as he turned a blind eye to a penalty shout from Darren Bent early on, and then Obafemi Martins in the latter stages.
MATCH RATING: *** Newcastle were awful in the first half and although they looked more impressive once they put more emphasis on attack, these are worrying times.
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