Shearer gets taste of reality
Alan Shearer wasted no time in reaching for the last refuge of the beaten manager as he announced he was going to "take the positives" from a painful start to his Newcastle United reign.
The positives, sadly for Shearer, were in very short supply - indeed they just about stretched as far as his opening shot that Newcastle had worked very hard before being overpowered by Chelsea.
It was a strange day down on the Tyne and there have been plenty of those. The mood-swings between the build up to Shearer's first game and the aftermath of the 2-0 defeat was almost like entering one world and leaving another.
Shearer was everywhere before the game, the old replica shirt back in the shop windows and supporters almost floating on air through the city streets to the ground.
Sadly, the reality was more brutal and the drinkers in Shearer's Bar and The Strawberry in the shadow of St James' Park were having to swallow a few bitter pills along with their Brown Ale after the game.
Chelsea failed to read the script for the hero's return - but Shearer's sheer force of personality remains Newcastle's best hope of avoiding the drop into the Championship.
He and his right-hand man Iain Dowie, who occasionally placed an arm around Shearer in paternal fashion in the first half to offer advice on tactical adjustments, had only two days to work with the team before facing Chelsea.
Shearer can now make concerted efforts to get his ideas and inspiration across to a Newcastle United team that desperately lacks those two crucial commodities.
It was a wise decision by owner Mike Ashley to call on Shearer - indeed the owner was happy enough about his coup to sign autographs for fans prior to kick-off, all this after being accused of being part of the "Cockney Mafia" at Newcastle after Kevin Keegan's departure.
If the mood before the start was one of celebration at the return of the new People's Champions, with Paul Gascoigne in attendance and receiving a heart-warming reception from supporters who encountered him, Shearer's demeanour did everything to demonstrate the grim reality of Newcastle's situation.
He was businesslike, making a late entry without fanfare, announcements or triumphalism and the occasional request for a wave from the masses went unanswered. Shearer was too locked in concentration for gestures.
And even when Chelsea's fans, buoyed by watching their team stroll to victory in the closing minutes, taunted Shearer with chants of "You're Getting Sacked In The Morning", it simply produced a defiant response from their Newcastle counterparts, who are relying on this Geordie icon and proud son of the city to save their season.
Every act from Shearer screamed out that he knows the seriousness of the problem he has walked into. He was not interested in grandstanding or playing to the crowd. To use a sporting phrase, he had his "game face" on before, during and after.
Shearer did show the odd trademark managerial tic even in his first 90 minutes - arms spread wide in apparent disbelief at a dubious decision, plenty of dialogue with the fourth official - but for the most part he cut an impassive figure, although his new players gave him little to get animated about.
He is understandably desperate to play down any feeling that this is a one-man crusade, saying: "I will try and do everything to deflect the thing away from myself. I was deternined to try and keep it as low-key as possible."
Shearer has one quality that will serve Newcastle well in these coming weeks. At close quarters he exudes an almost unshakeable self-belief and confidence. And he will need it on this evidence.
Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink also possesses it. He looked like a benevolent uncle alongside the young manager in the dug-out next to him - perhaps the only time Shearer did look like the managerial rookie he is.
Hiddink knew this was dangerous territory for Chelsea but he was happy with what he saw: "We came here in special circumstances. With Alan Shearer coming there have been a lot of articles and talking in recent days and we had to confront that.
"It gave that extra energy to the team and extra energy to the crowd but we came through it well. It was a good result and only makes us regret more our lost points at Spurs."
If there was one worry for Newcastle, it was the actual lack of obvious reaction from the players to Shearer's arrival. The odd crunching tackle flew in, with Nicky Butt in especially combative mood, but otherwise it was a thoroughly subdued performance when the smart money would have been on Newcastle almost having to be held back.
Shearer was, well, taking the positives as he delivered reassurances, saying: "We have had a chat. We know what has to be done - but knowing and doing are two different things."
Shearer is also sparing his players the big stick, although his steely demeanour hinted that he will not hesitate to produce it should the lack of inspiration and invention linger into next week's less-than-enticing visit to Stoke City.
"I'm trying to pick as many positives as I can," said Shearer. "They don't want to hear me harping on about negatives. They want to hear good things about themselves and the football club."
And his first team selection, and reaction to it, contained enough messages to suggest he has already made a swift analysis of what is required.
Shearer knows he has two goalscorers in Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins and wants to find ways to serve them. Chelsea did not afford them many opportunities (although Owen appeared to have a perfectly good goal wrongly ignored by a linesman) but other teams might in the weeks ahead.
Owen was also forced to do too much work near the halfway line, but again the quality of opposition made that a neccessity on this occasion.
Newcastle have a selection of wide men in Damien Duff, Peter Lovenkrands and Jonas Gutierrez - all united in inconsistency. Shearer admitted his side was short on quality against Chelsea and this is one area for improvement.
It is in defence where Shearer's hard words and Dowie's coaching expertise must be brought to bear. Newcastle were horribly clumsy and unconvincing at times, with Fabricio Coloccini a vulnerable figure.
Newcastle will call heavily on Owen's goals and Butt's experience in the crucial weeks ahead - but most of all they will seek inspiration from Shearer.
The Toon Army were subdued long before the final whistle, which was greeted with an eerie silence before a sympathetic burst of applause, almost in a reflex action.
And the scene outside St James' Park an hour after the game was in sharp contrast to the hours before kick-off, when the simple arrival of Newcastle's team coach was the catalyst for wild scenes of celebration.
Inside, Shearer was already making a Sunday morning appointment with his players - determined to write a happy ending to a story that started with a miserable first chapter.