Thursday, April 9, 2009
Stoke City's form at the Britannia Stadium rarely disappoints with their 28-point haul at home likely to provide the crucial edge in the tightest bottom-of-the-table scrap seen for a long time.
But it's the timing of such a vital clash which must further trouble Shearer after the fixture was switched to a Saturday teatime kick-off to suit the paying TV audience.
The delay will most certainly not please the former England captain, who continues to insist he'll return to TV punditry next season and allow full-time manager Joe Kinnear to resume the hot seat after a triple heart bypass.
Newcastle start the weekend in the bottom three and could be languishing six points from safety by kick-off if closest rivals Sunderland inflict further pain on Manchester United.
A Stoke win would leave the Potters nine points ahead of United with just six more Premier League battles to wage.
After losing comfortably to Chelsea a fortnight ago on his coaching debut, Shearer must already be wondering whether he has the types of players required for the club's relegation scrap - those willing to give everything to the Geordie cause.
He has at his disposal former England man Alan Smith, who was part of the Leeds team which was relegated from the Premiership in 2004 after they failed to win in their final seven games.
Smith has only played three times this season because of injury - the last time a month ago when Newcastle drew with Hull.
But the ex-Manchester United midfielder captained the reserves earlier this week after failing to make Shearer's first team selection against Chelsea and his battle qualities could be earmarked for the trip to Stoke.
Another midfielder with a recent track record in facing adversity is Kevin Nolan.
Nolan's switch to Newcastle was an emergency transfer window move by Kinnear. But his arrival does bring fresh experience of battling and beating the dreaded drop with Bolton Wanderers last season.
Bolton found themselves four points adrift of safety towards the business end of the 2007/08 campaign, but went unbeaten in their final five Premier League games to avoid relegation by a solitary point.
Nolan, who played a pivotal role in Bolton's survival, this week said it was vital his new team-mates kept their concentration and self-belief.
"The most important thing is not to get disillusioned," he told Newcastle's official website.
"I know we're three points below Sunderland and four or five away from a few other teams.
"But I was in a similar situation with Bolton last year - four points behind with five games to go and we managed to do it.
"We're determined to get the win at Stoke and that's what we're going for, but we must remember there are still six games after that and you have to keep on going until the very end."
Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com
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