Magpies survive at fortress Britannia
Tony Pulis is taking a break from Stoke City's relegation fight to run the London Marathon - Alan Shearer's sights are set only on a short sprint to safety for Newcastle United.
Pulis will hope Stoke have taken more giant strides towards their goal of staying in the Premier League by the time he starts his 26 miles 385 yards trek for charity on 26 April. Shearer simply wants to negotiate six more games and collect enough points to ensure his emergency mission to save Newcastle from the drop is remembered as a success and not a gallant failure.
And both men emerged with cause for optimism from a typical tear-up near the bottom of the table that was as memorable for the atmosphere inside the Britannia Stadium as it was for the quality of football on offer.
Pulis' after-match briefing mirrored his team's approach - no frills, straight to the point and honest. He could almost have been pre-empting a somewhat upbeat view of Newcastle's performance from Shearer when he said: "Don't let anyone kid you, we were the better team over the 90 minutes." And he was right. No-one should be kidded. Newcastle's long-overdue improvement in the last 20 minutes may have brought Andy Carroll's vital equaliser, but Stoke were the team who produced the more compelling evidence to suggest they will stay in the top flight.
Shearer must talk up Newcastle. He has to rebuild shattered confidence amongst his players, who have heard enough criticism of their efforts this season. However, the Magpies were, for 70 minutes, strictly second best and offered little to suggest Shearer had started to shape a team in his own image and likeness.
He drew encouragement from a late rally and Newcastle doing what many have failed to do - taking a point away from Stoke, one that could yet be vital in the final reckoning. He was also heartened that his defenders stood up to Stoke's aerial assault, while youngster Carroll gave him what he was looking for after urging Newcastle's young players to make an irrefutable case for inclusion.
After that, genuine pluses were in short supply. Newcastle's midfield lacked bite and creation, while Shearer has not worked out how best to service Michael Owen, who barely received a pass worthy of the name in the entire 90 minutes. Newcastle's cause was not helped by the loss of Obafemi Martins, who withdrew from the team at 11am on Saturday after waking up with a sore groin. There may be a funny side to that, but Shearer was never likely to see it.
It will be a long, slow road to recovery for Newcastle. Shearer's task is to gather sufficient momentum so they survive this season before either he or someone else takes what many believe is the impossible job forward next term. Carroll's goal must not shield him from the reality that Stoke should have had matters wrapped up by adding to Abdoulaye Faye's 33rd-minute goal, scored after referee Chris Foy wrongly awarded them a corner.
Pulis has been damned with faint praise, or at times no praise at all, at various stages this season but there is much to admire about him as a manager and Stoke as a team and club. This was hardly their finest hour - for much of this breathless affair, the fare was average - but it was easy to detect why their formidable home record has provided the bedrock of their campaign.
The Britannia Stadium provides one of the most intoxicating experiences in the Premier League, albeit a harrowing one unless you are either associated with Stoke City Football Club or a neutral. From Eminem blasting out before kick-off through 90 minutes in the company of supporters who simply do not do quiet or subdued, Stoke are enjoying every second of their Premier League experience and it is the special environment inside the Britannia that has given them every chance of staying there.
Stoke have pulled off the trick that has proved elusive to others. They have left a famous location, in this instance the dear old Victoria Ground, and not just replicated the atmosphere but improved upon it. Everything is done at full volume - even the football. If Stoke stay up, this simple fact cannot be under-estimated.
Pulis' approach has been questioned by so-called purists who would clearly prefer Stoke to football their way straight back into the Championship - much in the manner of their Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion. But Stoke's manager employs the style best suited to keep his team in the Premier League - and he has stuck to his principles just as adhesively as Tony Mowbray at The Hawthorns, except that one manager currently has a much better chance of staying up than the other. This is not a harsh commentary on the affairs of West Bromwich Albion, just the reality and a matter of approach.
I asked Shearer how hard it was to bring a side to the Britannia, which provides an all-out assault on the senses for any visitors - and he admitted it was a fierce examination for Newcastle. He explained: "You come into a very hostile atmosphere. It is a very difficult game. You know what you will face most games and I thought my players handled the situation and the way Stoke played very well." He added: "Stoke have had a fantastic season. They look as if they are enjoying it and deserve to be where they are. "
Newcastle also deserve to be where they are - rooted in the bottom three - but Shearer sees enough to suggest they can stay up, with north-east rivals Sunderland adding another layer of intrigue to the fight for survival with their continuing slump. "There are going to be so many twists and turns," he said. "You have got to stay calm, stay focused. I was pleased with the way my players handled this situation because it is a difficult place and lots of teams have crumbled under this pressure. We didn't and both my players and myself can take heart from that."
Stoke can also take heart from the fact that they have three eminently winnable home games left at their fortress, against Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic. Pulis may be planning for a marathon while Shearer contemplates a sprint - but both Stoke and Newcastle have the same aim in mind as the Premier League's finishing tape comes into view.