Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Six of the best

A mere five days after Alan Shearer broke Jackie Milburn's all-time Toon goalscoring record, it's about time we commemorated the feat. (Of course, were we to be a professional and reputable media source rather than literally amateurish part-timers, we'd have had this feature prepared in advance and ready to trot out at the appropriate moment, much like a Margaret Thatcher obituary.)

So, below I present a personal selection of six of the finest or most memorable strikes from Wor Al's 201-goal-and-counting haul.

1. v Leicester City (h), 2nd February 1997

Where to start? How's about Shearer's first season at the club, 1996-7? We scored an awful lot of goals that season - seven against Spurs, four against Villa, Everton and Coventry, and five against Nottm Forest and (yes, of course) Man Utd - and Shearer personally hit the back of the net 28 times in 40 games. Three of those goals came in desperate circumstances at home to Leicester.

Robbie Elliott had scored in the third minute, but goals from Matt Elliott, Steve Claridge and Emile Heskey looked as though the East Midlanders would condemn us to a very disappointing home defeat.

Shearer had other ideas, and proved to be the architect of a remarkable turnaround. When Robert Lee was felled in a dangerous area with 77 minutes on the clock, our number nine stepped up and absolutely smashed the ball past Kasey Keller. Had any members of the wall been in the way, one suspects they would have lost at least a limb.

An equaliser followed with six minutes remaining, all Shearer's own work, and in injury time Lee gave Shearer the chance to win the match and complete his first Toon hat-trick from close range, a chance he wasn't about to pass up. match report

2. v Spurs (n), 11th April 1999

After a dress rehearsal in the league the previous weekend, which had ended all square at 1-1, our 1999 FA Cup semi-final seemed to be going the same way. Over the course of the normal 90 minutes, the sides were inseparable, neither goal having been breached.

But four minutes into the second period of extra time, it was Shearer who at last gave us the lead from the penalty spot. Could we hang on to our slender advantage? It was edgy and nervous - until, that is, Silvio Maric made one of his most useful contributions in a black and white shirt, tapping a free kick to Shearer, who blasted a swerving long-range shot into the top corner. Cue the skipper stood, hands aloft. Cue the crowd: "Tell me mam, me mam / We won't be home for tea / We're going to Wemberlee..."

The final may have been a damp squib, the second in successive seasons for us, as we capitulated meekly to a Man Utd side en route for a famous treble, but that afternoon at Old Trafford Shearer had us believing cup glory was a distinct possibility.

3. v Aston Villa (h), 3rd November 2001

A nightmare scenario. My beloved's brother's wedding, I was meeting her extended family for the first time, the alcohol was bound to flow worringly freely, and - to make matters worse - the bride and groom had met at university in Sunderland, and so there were plenty of Mackems in attendance.

Thankfully, everything passed remarkably smoothly, my mood lightened further by the news of this steamrollering of Villa at St James's Park that kept us buoyant towards the top of the league. In a splendid team performance, one of the best home fans had witnessed in a while, Craig Bellamy scored twice (his fallouts with Robson and then Souness not yet visible on the horizon).

The Welshman's strikes, though, sandwiched the pick of the bunch. Lee floated a long pass over to Shearer on the right side of the penalty area, and from an angle Shearer smashed it first time past Peter Schmeichel on the volley.

Needless to say, I spent the evening drinking copiously in celebration of both the nuptials and the result, grinning at the assorted Mackems I encountered at the bar. match report

4. v Man Utd (a), 23rd November 2002

Shearer's feelings for Man Utd are well publicised. Having turned them down not once but twice, the second time to sign for us in that world record £15m deal in the summer of 1996, no-one was more overjoyed by the 5-0 pasting we dished out to the champions in October that year. Shearer scored that day, and had a hand in the winner in the tremendous 4-3 home win in September 2001 (it was eventually credited as a Wes Brown own goal) before winding up Roy Keane until he was red-carded for swinging a punch.

But his finest goal for us against the Red Devils came at Old Trafford in November 2002. We were 3-1 down at half-time, and it took another brilliant free-kick that bulleted past the helpless Fabian Barthez into the top corner to get us right back in the game on 52 minutes.

Unfortunately, we conceded again the very next minute and went on to lose 5-3 (this was the season, lest we forget, that we also lost 6-2 to Taggart's mob at home...) - but it was a landmark strike, Shearer's 100th Premiership goal for the club, and couldn't have come against a more appropriate side. Apart, perhaps, from the Mackems. match report

5. v Everton (h), 1st December 2002

100 up, but Shearer wasn't resting on his laurels. Oh no. What he came up with in our very next Premiership match was even more special.

Everton had come to St James's in a rich vein of form, and eternal thorn-in-our-collective-side Kevin Campbell (see also: Gus Poyet, Eidur Gudjonssen, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen until recently...) scored on 17 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Joseph Yobo was sent off for hauling down Bellamy and the Toffees had to face up to playing most of the game with ten men - but, try as we might, we just couldn't break them down. With just four minutes to go, it looked like a distinctly underwhelming defeat.

But, when an optimistic long ball bounced up off substitute Shola Ameobi, Shearer only had one thing in mind. His awesome volley would have decapitated 'keeper Richard Wright - if he'd managed to get anywhere near it, that is.

Buoyed by this equaliser out of the blue, we scented blood and, a minute from time, Bellamy's shot was deflected into his own net by Chinese midfielder Li Tie. As has so often been the case since he arrived on Tyneside, Shearer was the catalyst and inspiration behind a vital victory. match report

6. v Chelsea (h), 25th April 2004

It was a bright Sunday afternoon when Chelsea breezed into Toon, flush with Abramovich-funded signings like Hernan Crespo, Joe Cole, Claude Makelele and Wayne Bridge. This may have been the pre-Mourinho Chelsea of Claudio Ranieri, but make no mistake, they still posed a formidable threat.

True to form, the Londoners opened the scoring after only four minutes, Cole ghosting in unchallenged to put the ball past Given. But we weren't in the mood to lie down and surrender. Just as Chelsea thought they'd got in at the break with a slender lead, Ameobi pivoted on the edge of the area and fired in a clinical equaliser with his left foot.

Better was to come early in the second half, when it was Chelsea, rather than us, who were caught cold. Shearer underlined to Marcel Desailly that his career as a majestic player at the top of his game was effectively over. The Frenchman allowed our captain an inch of space on the left about 30 yards out, and that proved to be the inch he needed to hammer a venomous shot right into the top corner.

Jonathan Woodgate later limped off, his last appearance for us before being sold to Real Madrid, and John Terry hit the post late on, but we held on for a richly deserved victory. Shearer had done it again. match report

Of course, there have been many, many other great goals to come from Shearer's boots or head (as well as lots of scrappy but vital tap-ins), but those are my absolute favourites.

My favourite player feature from Cheer Up Alan Shearer (Incidentally, what happened to this, lads? If you're thinking of resurrecting it - and it was a very readable feature - I know a man who'd probably be keen to contribute...)


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